Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - A new showdown between the pro-Thaksin camp and its opponents intensified over the weekend as Thailand played host to the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
Ironically, the showdown effectively eclipsed the role of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, at the grand event.
At issue is the controversial reconciliation bill, as it is called by government MPs. However, opposition MPs call it a bill that will destroy the nation and its judicial system, as the pro-Thaksim camp, riding on the wave of its July 2011 election victory, tries to help ousted former premier Thaksin avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power.
In response to the bill, hundreds of anti-government protesters, mainly the yellow shirts of the People's Alliance for Democracy, yesterday tried to surround Parliament building, where government MPs were pushing for the enactment of the reconciliation bill.
Jurin Laksanavisit, the opposition whip, urged the president of Parliament to postpone the start of the debate on the so-called unity bill because it is not an urgent issue.
Suthep Thaugsuban, the Democrat Party's deputy leader, vowed to send its representative to hear the deliberations if the president of Parliament decides to change the venue due to worsening protests around the Parliament building.
The bill has at least three versions, including a version that was ironically submitted by General Sonthi Boonyatglin, the leader of the 2006 coup that overthrew the then-Thaksin government. General Sonthi, a former career soldier and Army commander-in-chief, has upset many of his previous supporters, as it seems he has now switched sides to favour the Thakin camp.
The Sonthi version of the bill is also backed by the Chat Thai Pattana Party of Banharn Silapa-archa, who wants the five-year political ban imposed on him and other party executives to end earlier than scheduled by the court. This will happen if the Sonthi version of the reconciliation bill is passed into law, as critics believe that the bill will eventually lead to the nullification of laws and orders issued following the 2006 coup. Under the same scenario, Thaksin's 46 billion baht (US$1.45 billion) confiscated by the state following the Supreme Court's ruling on his unusual wealth would be returned to the ex-premier.
Historically, no legislation has been enacted to nullify court verdicts, which are final. This proposed move has prompted more and more people to oppose the government-sponsored unity bill.
Meanwhile, many government MPs decided to leave the Parliament building yesterday, as they were worried that protesters would seal off the compound. Pheu Thai MPs believed that the protestors wanted to trigger violence, even though they were outnumbered by the 2,000 security personnel and policemen stationed at Parliament.
Eventually, the president of Parliament might have to postpone the House deliberations on the bill indefinitely. Pheu Thai and other government MPs accuse the opposition Democrat Party of intending to disrupt the House session on this issue.
In the event that the bill cannot be deliberated upon in the Parliament building, MPs could be moved to a new venue at the government's administrative centre on Chang Wattana Road.
In response to the anti-government yellow shirts coming out on the streets, leaders of the red shirts, who last year helped to install Yingluck as prime minister, say they will gather today at Muang Thong Thani.
Thus, there is now a growing possibility of a yellow-shirt and red-shirt confrontation.