BANGKOK: Thailand’s lower house of parliament passed a controversial political amnesty bill on Friday that opponents fear will allow fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return home and unleash fresh civil strife.
Critics say the amnesty, which still needs approval by the upper house, would “whitewash” past abuses, including the killing of unarmed protesters.
Observers warned the bill, which appears to be aimed at bringing Thaksin home from self-imposed exile, could trigger another round of civil unrest in a country with a history of political violence.
“I think he [Thaksin] may underestimate just how much the issue of him and his return angers people—he excites very strong emotions personally,” said Chris Baker, co-author of a biography on the billionaire telecoms tycoon turned premier.
“It’s clearly much more serious than before but I still think there is a chance they [the ruling party]will blink—they will think it’s just too dangerous,” he added.
Lawmakers in the ruling party-dominated House of Representatives voted 310-0 in the early hours of the morning to pass the legislation, with four abstentions.
The opposition Democrat Party—which opposes the amnesty—refused to take part in the vote, which came after about 19 hours of heated debate.
The bill is expected to be submitted to the non-partisan Senate on November 11, Senate President Nikom Wairatpanij said.
The opposition said it would keep up its efforts to kill the bill with further street demonstrations.
“We will continue our fighting in the street until the bill is aborted. There are other avenues such as by petitioning the Constitutional Court,” said party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut.
Thousands of people joined a rally against the planned amnesty in Bangkok on Thursday evening, some wearing bandanas reading “Fight” and waving clappers with the slogan “Stop the amnesty for corrupt people.”