BANGKOK, Thailand – Thousands of Thai ultra-royalists rallied Wednesday, May 30, in Bangkok against a bill they fear will open the door for ousted premier Thaksin Shinatwatra to return to the politically-fractured kingdom.
The rally of about 5,000 people marks one of the biggest shows of force by the movement since its crippling 2008 protests helped topple Thaksin-allied governments and comes as simmering Thai divisions spilled over into parliament.
Somkiart Pongpaiboon told the crowd the group would mobilize against a government led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra over its plan to grant a sweeping amnesty that could allow the former premier back into Thailand.
“Our steps are stop reconciliation bills, expel the prime minister and reform democracy,” said the leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), known as the “Yellow Shirts”.
The PAD are powerful players in Thailand’s color-coded politics, backed by the Bangkok-based elite and arch-rivals of Thaksin’s “Red Shirts”, whose massive rallies against a previous government in 2010 ended in a bloody crackdown.
Chaos in parliament
Reconciliation proposals have threatened to further polarize politics in the country, which has been repeatedly shaken by civil unrest since Thaksin was ousted by royalist generals in 2006.
The Thai parliament was thrown into chaos on Wednesday as MPs rushed the house speaker, forcing police to step in, amid an angry row over the timing of deliberations on the contentious bill.
“This should not have happened,” said Jirayu Huangsap, spokesman for the ruling Peua Thai. “Members have rights to propose and object, they should discuss.”
Yingluck’s government came to power last year, supported by the Red Shirts, with a promise to bring reconciliation to Thailand.
But the opposition has accused the government of trying to use amnesty plans as a means of enabling a return to Thailand for Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption and terrorism charges relating to the 2010 violence.
The Yellows are historically close to the opposition Democrat party, which came to power after 2008 rallies by the movement that culminated with the seizure of two Bangkok airports, stranding more than 300,000 travellers and causing crippling economic damage.
Some Red Shirts are also opposed to the reconciliation bill over fears that it would hamper prosecutions linked to the bloodshed during their rallies in 2010.
More than 90 people, mostly civilians, died during their two-month protests in Bangkok that ended with a brutal crackdown by the army.
So far no cases have been brought in connection with the violence and Human Rights Watch in April warned that if adopted the bill would “undermine justice.” – Rappler.com