Thailand’s Amnesty Law: Trigger for a New Round of Conflict?

Thailand has suffered a great deal of political instability over the last few years with a series of coups, changes in government, and mass demonstrations.

Many believe that these have left Thai people with deep wounds.

To heal these wounds, Thailand is now proposing four amnesty bills.

Kannikar Petchkaew has more.

Payom is selling sausages on a busy street in Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand.

It’s not his real name … for security reasons he doesn’t want to reveal his identity. He’s been temporarily released while waiting for a verdict from the Supreme Court.

He was sentenced to 12 years for murder during the clashes between the Yellow and Red Shirts six years ago.

But he claims he is innocent.

He’s now enjoying a normal life, selling food and taking care of his son.

“I can forgive everyone for sure. Once I was out of prison, I promised myself that I wouldn’t be angry or seek revenge on anyone. In my heart I’ve already forgiven them.”

Thailand is now debating four proposed bills that seek to grant amnesty to political offenders and protest leaders.

One of the bills promises amnesty for a wide group of offenders, including ordinary people like Payom.

The bill is supported by 42 members of parliament from the ruling Pheu Thai party.

Party member Tawatchai Hema, is convinced that the bills will increase the government’s popularity.

“With the help of the bills, it’s our sincere intention to bring an end to all the conflict. I believe the government will support the bill for the sake of the country.”

Puangtong Pawakkapan from Chulalongkorn University has been running campaigns supporting the amnesty bills.

He says they’re crucial for healing divisions within Thai society.

“More than 1000 people have been arrested since the clash in 2010. Many were innocent but still went to jail… just because they rallied for their rights or simply came out of their houses when the government declared a state of emergency. And now they’re all political prisoners. Many were charged with serious terrorism offences. To date, there are 20 of them still locked behind bars. Even the ones who are already freed, they need the amnesty to help them restart their normal lives.”

But Terdsak Jiamkitwattana doesn’t agree. His father was killed in the 2007 clash.

He says that those responsible should be punished.

“Even if I hadn’t lost my father, I’d still disagree with the amnesty bill. Everyone should say no to it. It’s not about losing someone…. it’s about the principle.”

Terdsak is a Yellow Shirt supporter – the group behind the street protests that led to the military coup that ousted the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power.

But the amnesty bill could also help rehabilitate Thaksin, who now lives in exile.

And this is something that Terdsak doesn’t want to see happen.

“They know very well that if they push forward this bill, it will create a new conflict.”

The opposition Democrat Party and Yellow Shirt supporters have announced that they will boycott the bills.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will leave the decision to Parliament.

Political analyst Nithi Eawsriwong says the government will have no other option but to accept the bills.

“There’s no way out for the government. They have to support the majority’s call for amnesty and bring real reconciliation to the country. What they need is courage and let’s hope that they have it.”

But ordinary people have had enough of the violence.

“We’ve learned a lesson, everyone has learned theirs. We may hold rallies, demonstrations, anyone can join in. But it won’t be a fierce fight like it was because everyone has their own wounds now.”

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