Thailand Hit by Mass Protests over Amnesty Bill

At least ten thousand protesters have hit the streets in central Thailand to protest a proposed amnesty bill that would provide amnesty for actions since the 2006 coup. Critics believe that the bill is aimed at allowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra to return to Thailand.

Thaksin was elected Prime Minister of Thailand

Thaksin was elected Prime Minister of Thailand in 2001, following a long and successful business career. During his time in office, however, Thaksin was accused of corruption, cronyism, treason, human rights violations, and numerous other charges. While abroad in 2006, a military junta staged a coup and seized the government.

The junta, however, was acting on the blessings of the King of Thailand, who holds the ultimate authority in the country. Following the coup, the King appointed General Sonthi Boonyaratglin to lead the country through a brief transitional period and charged him with restoring democracy. Elections were held in 2007 and power was handed over to the elected government on January 1, 2008.

Thaksin briefly returned to Thailand

Thaksin briefly returned to Thailand before fleeing conviction from the Supreme Court and being sentenced to two years in jail. He later received Montenegrin citizenship after having his visa revoked. Thailand, meanwhile, continued to face political unrest over Thaksin’s ouster and conviction and numerous other issues.

In 2011, Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, won the national elections and seized power. Many believe that Thaksin himself is actually controlling the government from abroad. Now, Yingluck has urged for an amnesty bill that would forgive violations following the 2006 coup. Many believe that this bill is aimed at allowing for the return of her brother.

Yingluck says, however, that the bill is meant to reconcile political differences in Thailand. The country has seen increasing unrest in recent years with various political parties and movements taking to the street to voice their views. Only the King of Thailand appears to be above the fray.

The bill has passed Thailand’s lower house but now appears destined to be vetoed in the Senate. Without Senate approval the bill will be blocked. The announcement from Senate leaders only came after mass protests this week which has seen thousands of people take to the streets to protest the bill. And despite Yingluck’s relative popularity, she was able to garner little further support.

Thaksin’s chances of returning to Thailand

Thailand will face its next election before July 3, 2015. Yingluck will most likely seek reelection but should she lose, Thaksin’s chances of returning to Thailand will all but evaporate. Opposition leaders strongly oppose his return and were key in rallying the protesters who effectively forced the Senate to announce that it will reject the bill. So for Thaksin, the time may be now or never to secure a reprieve or other form of amnesty.