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    MP amnesty runs into growing opposition Critics say bill is ploy to bring back Thaksin

    Posted Date: 2009-02-15 20:54:56
    Published: 16/02/2009 at 12:00 AM
    Newspaper section: News
    The Puea Thai party is running out of potential allies for its push to grant an amnesty to banned politicians after the Defence Ministry questioned its real intent.

    Abhisit: Issue could be tabled in cabinet
    "An amnesty to help politicians found guilty in political cases, granted in the name of national reconciliation, will not work," ministry spokesman Jittasak Charoensombat said yesterday.

    The ministry opposed the attempt led by Puea Thai to grant disgraced politicians an amnesty, an issue which is already testing the unity of the coalition government.

    Critics suspect the amnesty is really designed to restore to grace convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other former party executives banned from politics for five years for electoral fraud.

    The amnesty bill drawn up by Puea Thai lawmakers will be discussed by party members today, according to party spokesman Prompong Nopparit.

    The opposition party plans to forward it to the House on Wednesday.

    Apart from Thaksin, the bill would help restore the fortunes of 110 other members of his dissolved Thai Rak Thai party, as well as executive members of the disbanded Chart Thai, Matchimathipataya and People Power parties.

    The Democrats oppose the amnesty but its key coalition partners, the Bhumjaitai and Chart Thai Pattana parties, are expected to back the Puea Thai push.

    Democrat leader and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the party favoured comprehensive political reform which would take into account suggestions from all stakeholders.

    A well-respected figure or organisation acceptable to all sides could be given the task of working on reform.

    But Mr Abhisit said the government's foremost priority was to tackle economic problems.

    "The most important task today is to help people. I think people fully realise the seriousness of the economic situation," he said.

    Political issues, especially those involving politicians, had to come later. But he indicated the amnesty issue could be tabled in cabinet this week if other coalition parties wanted to discuss it.

    Several cabinet members, including newly elected Bhumjaithai leader and Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul, have close ties with the dissolved parties.

    Mr Chavarat has said forgiveness would clear the way for many banned politicians to re-enter politics.

    The prime minister was confident the coalition could derail the Puea Thai draft once it goes before the House.

    "They [Puea Thai MPs] can push it. But the government has the majority of votes in the House," he said.

    Even some Puea Thai members such as Samart Kaewmeechai, a deputy House speaker, were uncertain the amnesty bill would be passed by the lower house.

    Former chief of the Council for National Security's secretariat Somjet Boonthanom said the Puea Thai plan was intended to create a split in the government.

    People's Alliance for Democracy coordinator Suriyasai Katasila rejected the idea of granting banned politicians an amnesty, saying the real intent was to clear the names of Thaksin and his supporters.
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