Thai legislative push risks large protests

Thai legislative push risks large protests
Thai riot policemen standing guard outside Parliament in Bangkok yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Published: 4:02 AM, August 2, 2013
Updated: 5:00 AM, August 3, 2013
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BANGKOK — Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has made a legislative push that includes an amnesty for jailed supporters and two trillion baht (S$81 billion) of railway investments, which, if passed, could trigger massive protests.

Parliament started debating yesterday on those laws and changes to the constitution imposed after a 2006 coup that ousted her brother, Thaksin.

Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said this week that the seven-year infrastructure spending plan is needed to offset weakness in exports and consumption. He expressed confidence that the Bills complied with the constitution, rebuffing criticism from opponents who said the off-budget spending violated the charter.

“Political stability is very important for the continuity of economic recovery going forward,” said Mr Usara Wilaipich, a Bangkok-based economist at Standard Chartered. “The Thai economy will depend mainly on government spending and public investment because external demand remains weak while private consumption and investment appear to have a slowdown.”

National Security Council Secretary-General Paradorn Pattanatabut warned on Wednesday that protests from rival groups may bring large crowds on the streets.

The government will invoke the Internal Security Act, which gives the authorities greater power to control crowds and search for weapons, until Aug 10 to handle protests from several different groups, he told reporters.

In 2008, protesters pushing for a mostly appointed Parliament who received support from Queen Sirikit, seized government offices and Bangkok’s airports in a bid to oust Thaksin’s allies. Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva then took power in a parliamentary vote after a court disbanded the ruling Thaksin-linked party under the post-coup constitution.

Two years later, more than 90 people were killed when Mr Abhisit ordered the dispersal of Thaksin-backed protesters, who cordoned off parts of Bangkok, to push for an immediate election.

Ms Yingluck’s party won a parliamentary majority in a national vote the next year and Mr Abhisit faces murder charges for authorising soldiers to use weapons, a case he says is politically motivated.

The amnesty Bill proposed by ruling party lawmaker Worachai Hema would exonerate protesters from both sides involved in demonstrations stretching from the coup in 2006 until May 10, 2011. It would cover those in jail or who have charges pending, though it will not include “those who made decisions or ordered political action during the period”.

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