BANGKOK – Areas of capital Bangkok are still under water since the worst flooding in decades hit Thailand almost four months ago, prompting visits by both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki Moon today promising aid to the country, as a divisive debate grows about an official pardon list.
The official death toll in Thailand from the floods is now at 564, and several neighborhoods of Bangkok were today ordered to evacuate as water slowly drains from the under water areas in the north and west of the capital through Bangkok toward the sea. Secretary Clinton flew into Bangkok Wednesday to announce more than $10 million in extra flood relief assistance, telling media that she “admired the resilience of the Thai government and people.”
Yet the night before the high-profile arrivals, the Thai government discussed an official pardon for some 26,000 felons, possibly including fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The mere hint of his return to Thailand that has so riled the country’s opposition, which plans to grill the government tomorrow about the still-to-be-outlined plan, that the high profile visits appear somewhat of a sideshow.
The pardon was discussed by the Thailand cabinet on Tuesday and could see Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – Thaksin’s younger sister – present the country’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej with a list of names for pardon to mark the monarch’s 84th birthday on Dec. 5. The list could include Thaksin, the only Prime Minister to win successive elections, but who was ousted in a September 2006 coup and faces two years jail time for corruption in office.
While the focus of the Clinton visit was on the disaster and on the upcoming Asia-Pacific summit meetings in Bali, Indonesia, the pardon eventually came up. Prime Minister Yingluck sidestepped, however,reminding journalists that she wasn’t present when the pardon was discussed and suggested that the matter was in the hands, for now, of Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung.
More immediate opposition will come in Thailand’s parliament, after opposition leader and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva said today that any move to pardon Thaksin would undermine the rule of law in Thailand.
Clinton made no comment on the Thailand pardon issue, but praised the work of the truth and reconciliation body set up by the former Thailand government, after 2010 Thaksin-backed “redshirt” street protests turned ugly and 91 people were killed. Abhisit, then prime minister, was accused by international human rights groups of sending the Thai Army onto the streets of Bangkok to shoot civilians while his government argued that the redshirts contained armed factions.
The pardon gambit, if Thaksin is to be included, increases the possibility of new protests in Thailand. Already, the seemingly-spent anti-Thaksin (and, to many, anti-democratic) protest group known as the “yellowshirts” that helped push Thaksin and his allies from office in 2006 and 2008 are seeking to re-enter the public arena. However it remains to be seen whether the group can regain its late-2008 sway, when thousands of supporters occupied Bangkok’s two airports in protest at a Thaksin-backed government.
In Thailand’s July 2011 elections, which Yingluck’s Peau Thai (For Thais) Party won handsomely, yellowshirts barely registered. Thaksin’s possible return could galvanize those who are otherwise apathetic, however, and a facebook page opposing any pardon for Thaksin had pulled 33,000 followers at time of writing – though almost 145,000 others had not replied to the online networking invitation.Show