Renewed talk of returning a Thai passport to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra has sparked an outcry from his opponents who have vowed to take legal action against the government.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said yesterday Thailand will issue Thaksin a passport "very soon".Thaksin: May get new passport ‘very soon
Tul Sitthisomwong, coordinator of the anti-Thaksin Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land, said he would seek the foreign minister's impeachment if he proceeds.
Mr Surapong shrugged off the threat and shot back that it was the foreign minister's privilege to issue or revoke passports. He also noted that he planned the return of the passport as a "New Year gift" for Thaksin, but the passport could be returned even sooner.
"We are examining the law and we should conclude next week. We may be able to return the passport sooner than expected," he said.
Mr Surapong insisted that Thaksin's passport had not been not revoked by a court of law or the police. It was cancelled by former foreign minister Kasit Piromya.
"So I will use my power to do whatever is not illegal under the regulations of the ministry to give the passport back to the ex-premier," he said.
Mr Tul said a fugitive convicted of serious charges should not be allowed a Thai passport. If a convict is in the country, police are duty-bound to track him down.
If a fugitive is living overseas, the Attorney-General's Office and the Foreign Ministry must cooperate to bring him back, he said.
Mr Tul pledged to seek Mr Surapong's impeachment if he went ahead with the plan to issue a passport to Thaksin, who now holds a Montenegrin passport.
Parnthep Pourpongpan, spokesman for the People's Alliance for Democracy, said the yellow shirts would not hold a mass protest against the move, as they preferred to use legal channels to counter the government.
"We will lodge a complaint against the government with the National Anti-Corruption Commission as soon as the Foreign Ministry issues a passport to Thaksin," Mr Parnthep said.
A passport applicant must report to the authority in person, in which case Thaksin would have to be arrested, he said. "The government will face a negligence charge if it fails to intercept him," Mr Parnthep added.
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said the minister has to explain to the public the benefits of returning a passport to Thaksin.
The Democrat-led government revoked Thaksin's passport owing to the former premier's conviction for abuse of power. "This obviously is not a New Year's gift for the Thai people," he said. "[The people] want to see the government help them restore the country and economy after the floods."
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra - Thaksin's sister - said yesterday she would leave the matter in the hands of the Foreign Ministry.
"I will not intervene," she said. "It's an affair the ministry has to handle as it sees fit. Any decision must be based on the principles of rule of law and equity."
Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin's legal adviser, said returning the passport should not be used to rekindle political conflicts.
Mr Noppadon said the issuing of a Thai passport would not make it any easier for Thaksin to return home.
"It is a rehabilitation process for those who were treated with injustice. I think most people know he has been mistreated," he said.
The government recently abandoned changes to a proposed royal pardon decree which could have cleared Thaksin of his abuse of power conviction and allowed him to return home. It abandoned the changes after a public outcry.