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Left With No Bad Moves to Make, Yingluck Makes the Right One

by Joshua Kurlantzick
November 6, 2013

A protester holds a banner as thousands gather against the amnesty bill in Bangkok's central business district on November 6, 2013. The Thai Senate will likely reject an amnesty bill critics say is aimed at bringing back convicted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra from exile, the Senate Speaker said on Wednesday, a move that could defuse rising tension on the streets of Bangkok. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters) A protester holds a banner as thousands gather against the amnesty bill in Bangkok's central business district on November 6, 2013. The Thai Senate will likely reject an amnesty bill critics say is aimed at bringing back convicted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra from exile, the Senate Speaker said on Wednesday, a move that could defuse rising tension on the streets of Bangkok. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Today Thailand time, after not only the opposition Democrats but also many members of her own coalition expressed fury at Thailand’s proposed amnesty bill, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government finally abandoned the legislation. The government announced that it will not seek to keep the bill alive if Thailand’s Senate rejects it later this week, as is now expected. Many senators already have come out and said they will reject the controversial amnesty bill, making it likely a majority of the Senate will vote it down—a shocking turn of events, since Yingluck normally has de facto control of the upper house and most analysts (including me) expected she would be able to ram the bill through the Senate.

Street protests against the amnesty law have been growing, leading up to what would have been (and may still be) massive demonstrations this weekend in Bangkok. Many of the MPs in Yingluck’s own party had been extremely uncomfortable with the amnesty legislation, since they had participated in the 2010 Bangkok street protests during which security forces opened fire repeatedly on protesters with live rounds, killing at least ninety people. Several of these MPs had been fired at themselves while in the demonstrations, or had friends or relatives who had been killed or injured in 2010. Although Yingluck had whipped the party into line to support the legislation, in a pre-dawn vote in the lower house Friday, this was a temporary measure. Dissent had already this week begun to trickle out from within Puea Thai, and as we moved toward the weekend, internal party frustration was likely to be aired even more openly, betraying cracks in what, from the outside, looked like an extraordinarily disciplined party, by Thai standards.

Still, Yingluck (and Thaksin’s) refusal for so long to see the enormous flaws in the amnesty law—that it would have whitewashed almost a decade of abuses by security forces and political leaders just to allow Thaksin to return to Thailand—was extremely surprising. Though he desperately wants to return, Thaksin also always has been known to have the best political instincts in Thailand, to understand what he can and cannot do at any time. Despite having little experience in politics before being elected prime minister two years ago, Thaksin’s sister, up to now, had demonstrated astute political sense as well during her term in office.

Yet Yingluck continued to defend the amnesty up to the last minute it seemed possible to pass, she forced her MPs to vote for it last Friday, and she seemed unable to understand why the legislation was so anathema to many Thais. Perhaps she still does not understand—until Wednesday she and Thaksin were still defending the legislation—but rather has simply faced political realities.

 

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