Protesters rise to Thai MP's call

THAILAND - Protesters at Democracy Monument last night agreed with Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban when he said the fight against amnesty bill should continue after he produced a video clip of a Pheu Thai MP telly party supporters that the government's promise to retreat was merely a ploy to buy time.

In the clip from Tuesday night, MP Prasit Chaisrisa was seen telling a pro-Pheu Thai audience that the government's decision to back down was meant to convince the anti-amnesty demonstrators to go home, before the efforts to push the bill through are renewed.

This came after the government vowed publicly yesterday saying it would not pursue the amnesty bill during the remainder of its term should the Senate veto it.

Phumtham Wechayachai, secretary-general of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, announced yesterday that if the Senate, which convenes on Monday, decides to kill the bill, then the other five draft laws related to amnesty would also be withdrawn. He added that the government would not submit any more rift-provoking bills.

Later, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was in Chantaburi at the time, said the government would act according to the Senate's decision. "Pheu Thai has clearly stated that it won't resubmit the bill after the 180-day 'silence' period ends. The government affirms that it will not act against public opinion, will honour the majority and listen to public opinion. This statement follows rumours that the government is planning to take violent action. I assure you, this government will never use force against the public, as we are a people's government, elected under the democratic system. We honour the laws, the Constitution and public freedom," the premier said.

Technically, the government can resubmit the bill 180 days later if the Senate rejects it.

In response to the Democrat Party's concern that the government might use executive decrees to fulfil its amnesty attempt, Yingluck said there were no plans to do such a thing. She also urged people to calm down, and called on the opposition - which is leading a rally on Rajdamneon Avenue - to fight in Parliament.

As of press time, the rallies at Rajdamneon Avenue and at Urupong intersection were continuing. Students from several universities plan to hold a massive rally today, which will be intensified with protests from some business organisations.

Meanwhile, chief opposition whip Jurin Laksanawisit said the Pheu Thai-led administration had merely made this move to ease pressure from the public, adding that a promise has to be kept for the public to believe it.

"Don't be fooled by mere statements about the bill's withdrawal without evidence. It is just meant to decrease the growing opposition to the amnesty bill for [the government's own] political gains. The government's credibility is declining and there is no guarantee that it will not break its promises," he added.

Democrat MP Rachada Dhnadirek said the government first needs to prove that Yingluck will keep her word. "Unless the blanket amnesty bill is dropped from Parliament, Democrat-led protests will continue," she added.

Yesterday, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra issued a statement, saying that he respected different opinions of Thais "but I cannot accept the use of false information to distort the issue and frame me and my family". His son, Panthongtae, wrote on his Facebook page that his father, longing to come home, supported the bill on poor advice from some close aides.

Earlier in the day, Jurin said the government should make it clear that it would not revive the amnesty debate. He urged Yingluck to reaffirm that the government would not introduce any draft on amnesty and that it would not grant political clemency by issuing an executive decree.

A source from the Democrat Party, who asked not to be named, said he believed the ruling Pheu Thai Party had a strategy. They want to convey to intellectuals and businessmen who are also protesting against the bill that the Democrats had an agenda to overthrow the government, the source said. He said the government estimated that many of the anti-bill protesters would stop rallying after Yingluck signalled to the Senate to reject the bill. However, the strategy failed because the PM's retreat seemed to be too late. He said the key issue, which the Democrats would communicate to demonstrators, is that the people could not trust the Senate and the government, until the six amnesty drafts in the House are out of Parliament.

Before the Pheu Thai announcement, a number of coalition and opposition MPs made a bipartisan stand, urging the Senate to revise the amnesty bill instead of killing it. The senators should vote to pass the first reading of the bill so that they could vet and remove contentious amnesty provisions, Democrat MP Alongkorn Ponlaboot said.

Pheu Thai MP Chavalit Wichayasuthi said he agreed with Alongkorn's proposal. Revising the bill instead of discarding it would mean the legislative procedures for amnesty would not be in vain, he said.

Pheu Thai MP Samart Kaewmechai said the bill should be salvaged by allowing the upper chamber to revise controversial provisions as deemed necessary.

"Defeating the bill would not end the differences over amnesty, hence revising the bill to suit society is a better option," he said.

He reminded the senators that should they defeat the bill, the House would still be obliged to reactivate the amnesty debate in six months as per the Constitution.