Thailand’s self-exiled former prime minister has hit back at claims he is planning to return home under a contentious proposed amnesty law that has triggered street protests and fresh international fears about the country’s stability.
Thaksin Shinawatra – who has stayed out of Thailand since a 2008 corruption conviction there – broke his silence to say he wanted to come back only if he was not going to be “part of the problem”.
Lawmakers in Bangkok on Friday struggled to reach a quorum for a crucial debate on the bill whose opponents have mounted waves of rallies in Bangkok and other urban centres this week, triggering worries of a repeat of a 2010 showdown in which pro- and anti-Thaksin protesters battled each other for nine weeks and brought parts of the capital to a standstill.
In brief off-the-cuff remarks to the Financial Times in Dubai, where he now lives, Mr Thaksin accused the opposition of spreading “confusion” over the amnesty bill, as part of an effort to take power by “non-democratic ways”.
Asked if he wanted to come back to Thailand, Mr Thaksin said: “Yes, but [it is] not necessary. If I return I should not be part of the problem, I should be part of the solution. I don’t care – I can be a free man here.”
Mr Thaksin – who won two elections with his appeal to Thailand’s rural poor before being deposed in a 2006 military coup – denied the amnesty bill was, as some critics allege, an attempt to whitewash him and other high-profile figures convicted or accused of crimes.
But he signalled he did not expect the law to be passed in the face of the protests, saying that “when the confusion is there, the people don’t accept it, so we just withdraw it”.
His remarks echo the tone struck in the past few days by senior pro-Thaksin politicians in Thailand, in what some analysts see as a government effort to pull back from the bill for fear of more street conflict.
Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister and Mr Thaksin’s younger sister, has said she will accept the Senate’s verdict on the bill, while Nikom Wairatpanij, Senate president, has said he will oppose it and urge fellow legislators to do the same.
In another sign of an apparent official anxiety to take the sting out of a dispute that sent the Thai stock market down sharply earlier this week, the Senate brought forward its debate on the bill from Monday to Friday.
Some observers see this partly as an effort to calm the political situation ahead of a judgment on Monday by the UN International Court of Justice on a longstanding Thailand-Cambodia border dispute that sparked military clashes in 2011, killing at least eight people and forcing thousands of others to flee. Although the disagreement over the area around the 11th century Preah Vihear temple was decided in Cambodia’s favour by a previous ICJ ruling in 1962, opposition Democrats have used the case as a nationalist rallying cause and accused pro-Thaksin governments of failing to press Thailand’s claim on the territory.
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