Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thaksin 'unaware' of decree bid Rallygoers urged to take dispute to Privy Council

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is at the centre of an uproar against a government-proposed decree widely seen as being enacted primarily to pardon his jail term, said he had no knowledge of the move.

Anti-pardon protest draws 1,000: A Friday evening rally outside Lumphini Park protested against the government's draft royal decree for a royal pardon which could benefit exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The rally was led by Siam Samakkhi Group leader Kaewsun Atibhodhi and anti-Thaksin activist Tul Sitthisomwong. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
Speaking from his Dubai base late on Wednesday, Thaksin said the cabinet was discussing the annual pardon of convicts which forms part of His Majesty the King's birthday celebrations, not a special amnesty.

Thaksin was sentenced to two years in jail in 2008 for abuse of power to enable his then-wife Potjaman na Pombejra to secure a land purchase on Ratchadapisek Road.

Asked if he thought he would be included, he said: "I don't know. I don't think so. No one knows, because it was a confidential meeting. It's at the full discretion of His Majesty [the King]."

In Thailand, the controversial decree prompted about 1,000 people to gather outside Lumpini Park on Rama IV Road in opposition to the move.

The rally — the first mass political gathering since last year's red-shirt protest ended in a bloody crackdown — was called for by an anti-Thaksin group led by Tul Sithisomwong. It began at 5pm and lasted about one hour.

Inside the park, another group called Siam Samakkhi, or United Siam, also gathered to oppose the decree.

Dr Tul called on the demonstrators to gather again on Monday to submit a letter in opposition to the decree to the Privy Council. After that, they will rally at the Government House on Tuesday.

He urged people across the country who disagreed with the decree to sign their name to a protest letter and submit it to their provincial governors.

Dr Tul claimed the government was issuing the royal decree with the precise specifications and goal of helping one person — Thaksin.

He said the government could have used the content of the royal decree issued during the Thaksin's tenure in 2006 but didn't.

Instead, it sought to modify the criteria for people who would benefit for the royal pardon.

The cabinet on Tuesday approved a royal decree seeking clemency for 26,000 convicts to mark His Majesty the King's birthday on Dec 5.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung chaired the meeting as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, paid an overnight visit to Sing Buri to meet flood victims.

Kaewsan Atibhodi, a former constitution drafter, said at the Lumpini rally that Ms Yingluck should have vetted the pardon decree before tabling it for cabinet approval, instead of letting Mr Chalerm handle the matter.

He urged the ministers who approved the decree to return it to the cabinet and separate the royal pardon decree into two parts: one for the 26,000 prisoners and the other for Thaksin alone.

"The government should not hold the 26,000 prisoners as guarantors [for the passage of the decree]," he said.

Sopboon Srimuang, a state official who joined the rally, said she opposed the decree because she thinks the government is trying to deceive the public.

"Thaksin should not be entitled to the pardon because he fled the verdict.

It was not suitable for the government to issue the royal pardon decree at this time, when the country is still battling with floods," she said.

Meanwhile, the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy will rally against the decree on Monday, PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said.

Mr Panthep said yellow-shirt supporters will rally against the "law for Thaksin" in front of the Council of State Office from 10am to 6pm on Monday.

Details of the rally will be released at Baan Phra Arthit on Saturday at 11am, he added.

"The rally isn't a move to pressure an exercise of the royal power. We are opposed to the cabinet's undertaking which undermines the rule of law," he said.

Opposition and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva Friday called on Ms Yingluck to refrain from provoking another political crisis by pushing ahead with the proposal.

The decree would be like rubbing salt into the national wound and would damage the government's credibility.

"It depends on the government and the prime minister. There is no problem if they follow tradition," he said.

Mr Abhisit said there are established criteria for a royal decree seeking royal pardon for convicts, which do not cover those on the run and those found guilty of corruption offences.

The Democrat leader also urged the prime minister to make clear the government's stance on the issue.

"Don't be elusive like [deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung]," he said. "Why does the government have to make changes?

"I think we all know who stands to benefit from them."

The army, meanwhile, has reserved its opinion on the pardon issue, saying it is a political concern, not the military's.

"The army chief wants the army to focus its resources on helping people affected by the flood," said First Army Commander Lt Gen Udomdej Sitabutr.

Army Commander Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has declined to comment on the issue.