Thai parliament delays charter debate, cooling tension
BANGKOK, June 12 – Thailand’s parliament delayed debate on a constitutional amendment bill today, lowering the heat on an issue that has brought rival protest groups into the street and threatened to reignite political violence.
“I will not let even a single Thai shed their blood for this issue,” said Somsak Kiatsuranon, parliament’s speaker, adding the debate would not go ahead during the current session.
A parallel debate on a reconciliation and amnesty bill has also been postponed and preparations were being made to end the parliamentary session, Somsak told reporters.
The constitution was drafted under a military government following a 2006 coup that ousted the then prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. The current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is his sister.
A former telecoms tycoon, Thaksin has chosen to live in exile since 2008 to avoid a two-year prison sentence for corruption, which he called politically motivated.
His opponents say the amnesty bill and push to change the constitution are designed to allow him to come home without serving jail time.
The royalist “yellow shirts”, who oppose Thaksin, surrounded parliament and forced the postponement of a debate on the reconciliation bill on June 1. The “red shirts”, who back him, have said they would protest if the various bills were shelved.
“Red shirt supporters have sent me text messages to say they are not satisfied with parliament’s decision but we still support this government which we elected,” Korkaew Pikulthong, a red shirt leader and member of parliament for the ruling Puea Thai Party, said.
Tension came to a head when the Constitutional Court ordered debate on the bill to be suspended after a petition submitted by the main opposition party, which argued that the proposed changes could scrap laws that protect the monarchy.
The delay buys time for the rival sides to decide their next moves before a new session of parliament begins in early August.
Thailand has seen years of political upheaval since Thaksin was ousted.
The yellow shirts have undermined pro-Thaksin governments that came to power after he was ousted, notably by forcing Bangkok’s airports to shut down for a week in late 2008.
A prolonged protest by the pro-Thaksin red shirts in 2010 brought Bangkok’s central business and commercial districts to a halt for several weeks before the military was sent in to end it. In all, 91 people were killed and hundreds injured. – Reuters