Will the Thai govt gamble with amnesty plan?

The sky has darkened, the storms seem to be picking up strength, and downpours have hit some areas, but it's still relatively far from being a perfect storm for the Yingluck government. Not until it lurches into the totally forbidden zone called "amnesty", that is. Will a government that has always played it safe take that big gamble? Most analysts are betting it will.

A "lesser" risk would be to dissolve the House of Representatives and seek a fresh mandate in a new election. Speculation about an early election died down after the ruling Pheu Thai Party suffered a big by-election setback in Bangkok recently, but the government's new resolve to bolster the controversial rice price-pledging scheme has revived talk about a House dissolution.

With everyone outside the government strongly opposed to the rice scheme, the government's refusal to bring down the guaranteed price of Bt15,000 per tonne is clear-cut political defiance that apparently needs the backing of a new mandate.

An early election would buy everyone some time. The "reconciliation" and "amnesty" bills wouldn't have to be rushed. Those opposing them wouldn't have to go for broke. Independent bodies like the Constitutional Court would see their collision with the Pheu Thai-dominated Parliament delayed.

It's questionable, though, whether House dissolution would deter renewed attempts to disband the ruling party. With the Central Administrative Court ruling that the government's water-management mega-projects require health and environment risk assessments, the opposition has sought to impeach the administration, accusing it of overstepping crucial legal procedures. The impeachment case promises new fireworks in the ongoing political crisis.

Then there are the issues of declining popularity, problems caused by the latest Cabinet reshuffle, and the red shirts' seemingly increasing frustration with the government. In addition to alleged massive corruption linked to the rice scheme, the water-management projects are being heavily scrutinised, with opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra leaving no stone unturned in an effort to link him to the projects' alleged irregularities.

Chalerm Yoobamrung, upset by his ministerial "demotion", is sulking, and a sulking Chalerm is the equivalent of a rebel. Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan has missed out on a Cabinet post again, raising more doubts about the government's relationship with his political movement.

What should Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra do if she decides against dissolving the House? One way is to deal with all the said problems as they come and hope that Pheu Thai's domination of Parliament and its still-massive political base will carry it through. The other way is to be more aggressive and send the controversial reconciliation and amnesty bills to the parliamentary floor.

One school of thought - from the hawkish side in the government - believes that if the bills are passed, everything else will be taken care of. But most people outside of the ruling party's circle reject the theory that these bills can bring political peace. Even pro-government media outlets, while supporting the bills, say the draft legislation could trigger a new round of political violence.

Technically, the bills can be passed whenever the government wants, because the parliamentary opposition is outnumbered. Politically, the bills could bring about dangerous uncertainties, and this is why the ruling camp has always taken a cautious approach.

The Pheu Thai hawks want to use the bills as a political offensive. With the government reeling from various issues, ranging from the murder of a key anti-government businessman to corruption allegations to a new impeachment threat, taking a gamble with the two bills might sound increasingly attractive.

There is only a slight chance that the hawks are right. What is more likely is that reactivating the bills will be the last required element for a perfect storm. Will Pheu Thai decide to bring in the missing piece? The answer could be just a few days away.