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    Amnesty bill splits govt

    Posted Date: 2009-02-13 21:14:47
    PM calls for political reform move instead
    By: PRADIT RUANGDIT and AEKARACH SATTABURUTH
    Published: 14/02/2009 at 12:00 AM
    Newspaper section: News
    The opposition Puea Thai party's push to grant an amnesty to banned politicians has won backing from some government figures, threatening to break the coalition government.

    If enacted into law, the bill, expected to go before parliament on Feb 18, would grant an amnesty to 111 former executives of the now-dissolved Thai Rak Thai party and 109 former executives of the dissolved Chart Thai, Matchimathipataya and People Power parties, banned from politics for electoral fraud.

    Puea Thai is likely to lobby several former members of three disbanded parties who have defected to Chart Thai Pattana and Bhumjaithai, both government coalition parties, to vote for the bill.

    Industry Minister Charnchai Chairungruang yesterday conceded the proposed amnesty is likely to drive a wedge among coalition government partners.

    Since government MPs have different views about the bill, it is possible the matter would sow seeds of division among the coalition parties, he said.

    However, Mr Charnchai, also acting leader of Puea Pandin, said party MPs have not yet discussed the bill.

    The government's fears of splits were heightened yesterday when Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul backed the bill.

    Mr Chavarat, a leader-designate of the Bhumjaithai party, said he agrees with the proposed amnesty - but for politicians only.

    However, Mr Chavarat stressed his opinion does not represent the party's stance. He said the Democrat party should also listen to the views of its coalition partners.

    Mr Chavarat is seen to be in the Friends of Newin faction. Influential politician Newin Chidchob is among the 111 banned politicians.

    Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva urged the opposition to drop the proposed amnesty and come up with a political reform proposal instead.

    "We should not forget that last year's political turmoil was triggered by this sort of thing. Should we get ourselves trapped in another [dead-end] conflict?

    "Why don't we find a neutral body [to work on reforms] and make suggestions to parliament? This should be easier to accept," he said.

    Mr Abhisit said the government is open to talks with Puea Thai on political reform. He has brought up the idea with Puea Thai core member Chalerm Yubamrung.

    Government chief whip Chinnaworn Boonyakiat yesterday allayed fears that the proposed amnesty would shorten the life of the coalition government.

    He said the coalition partners were unlikely to support the bill if they knew it would advance former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's own interests.

    "I believe Chart Thai leader Banharn Silpa-archa and Newin Chidchob would not put their interests before that of the country," he said.

    Somsak Prisanananthakul, former deputy leader of the Chart Thai party, warned Puea Thai that the amnesty could worsen social divisions and incite confrontation if it was introduced to benefit particular groups of people.

    Tourism and Sports Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa, leader of Chart Thai Pattana which is the reincarnation of the disbanded Chart Thai party, yesterday declined to comment.

    Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator for the People's Alliance for Democracy, doubted the bill, dubbed the national reconciliation bill by Puea Thai, would bring about peace and reconciliation as claimed. The proposed amnesty is an apparent attempt to whitewash the record of fugitive prime minister Thaksin and his cronies.

    Mr Suriyasai said PAD leaders who face criminal action over the seizure of two airports in Bangkok are willing to fight the charges in court rather than being cleared of alleged wrongdoing by the proposed amnesty.

    Senator Rosana Tositrakul said the bill would be a snub to the judiciary.
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