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Thaksin royal pardon has Thailand coup watchers on alert as the 9s line up again

After just 106 days in office the coming days promise to be a tense period for the government of Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (ยิ่งลักษณ์ ชินวัตร), with conditions approaching ideal for the Royal Thai Army (กองทัพบกไทย) to mount the country’s 19th coup d’état since absolute monarchy rule was abolished 79 years ago.

Already the subject of strong public criticism over the way in which her government has handled the 2011 Thailand flood, public anger at the government’s plan to request a royal pardon for prisoners, including her disgraced older brother fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (ทักษิณ ชินวัตร), is drawing heated condemnation from those opposed to the disgraced former leader’s return.

Royal pardon discussion on back of blatant lie

The royal pardon was first discussed by members of the cabinet in Ms Yingluck’s absence on Tuesday, November 15, after the public and media were fed a blatant lie that the PM was stranded in Sing Buri, 140km (87 miles) north of Bangkok, the evening before because the helicopter she was using to inspect the continuing 2011 Thailand flood was incapable of flying at night.

That the Thai media traveling with the leader of country didn’t think it odd that the country leader’s helicopter, a Russian-built Mi-17 (ordinarily perfectly equipped for night flight) couldn’t fly the Thailand PM to an emergency 24-hours a day anywhere in the kingdom is an extremely sad indictment of the professional standard of Thai journalism and one that every member of the Thai Journalists Association should feel deep embarrassment over, but in Thai style probably won’t.

Thailand deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung (เฉลิม อยู่บำรุง) - charged with securing Thaksin Shinawatra's (ทักษิณ ชินวัตร) return. Photo: Courtesy OKNation.net

Thailand deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung (เฉลิม อยู่บำรุง) – charged with securing Thaksin Shinawatra's (ทักษิณ ชินวัตร) return. Photo: Courtesy OKNation.net

The truth is that the Thai PM was deliberately absent from the cabinet meeting as this enabled deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung (เฉลิม อยู่บำรุง), appointed to take care of Thaksin’s return since the government was formed, to not only chair the two-hour long cabinet meeting, but also a special 15-minute discussion immediately after where a royal pardon for prisoners, including the deposed former leader, was discussed.

Simply put, if the PM had been in attendance at the meeting she would have either had to recuse herself, which could have raised eyebrows that something was afoot, or been in breach of the Thailand constitution – the matter discussed having benefits for a family member.

In any event news of the “secret” discussions regarding a royal pardon quickly leaked into the public domain and while Chalerm and the PM have refused to reveal the wording of the proposed Royal Decree, leaked details indicate it requests Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej to issue a royal pardon for sum 26,000 prisoners aged 60 and over, with a routine exemption for those convicted for corruption or drug cases as contained in past royal pardons removed.

Past Thailand royal pardons

Collective royal pardons issued by HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

Collective royal pardons issued by HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

In the past royal pardons have specifically excluded these two groups – a previous recommendation from the Council of State (Privy Council) specifically addressing these two groups – and with Thaksin yet to serve a single day behind bars for a two-year jail term imposed in 2008 for abuse of authority, opponents are claiming it makes a joke of the Thai judicial system, while others see it as applying pressure on the monarch to issue a royal pardon the man blamed for much of Thailand’s political unrest over the last three years.

On December 5 King Bhumibol will celebrate his 84th birthday, a date which also marks the very auspicious ending of his seventh 12 yearly cycle of life (Buddhist belief) and it has long been expected that to mark such an occasion he will issue a royal pardon for prisoners, as he has done on past auspicious occasions.

However, while Thailand moved from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932 and the Thai royal family is deemed to be above politics, the automatic approval of the King on legislative Bills and Acts is not guaranteed, though it has only been rarely withheld in the past.

In 1954 the King twice declined to endorse a land reform Bill and in 1976 declined to sign a law to extend democratic elections down to district levels, while in 2004 an attempt by the government to replace Jaruvan Maintaka as auditor-general failed when the King declined to approve it and the request was withdrawn in 2006.

Explosive reaction to proposed Thaksin royal pardon

2005 File Photo: Opponents of the planned royal decree for former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra say it makes a joke of the Thai judicial system. Photo: Courtesy US DoD - Helene C. Stikkel

2005 File Photo: Opponents of the planned royal decree for former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra say it makes a joke of the Thai judicial system. Photo: Courtesy US DoD – Helene C. Stikkel

The reaction to news of the proposed royal pardon involving the former prime minister has been explosive, especially given that 22 of Thailand’s 77 provinces remain inundated from the 2011 Thailand flood, and millions of people remain displaced, unemployed, or otherwise affected, with residents in some communities destroying the sand bag dykes that prevented the CBD from also being flooded, but at the expense of inundating the homes of people in Bangkok suburbs.

That an application for a royal pardon for Thaksin has come at this time should be of no surprise to anyone with the self-exiled deposed leader and those close to him making it clear on a number of occasions his strong desire to return for his eldest daughter’s wedding on December 9.

The first protest against the government’s proposed royal pardon application was held Friday (November 18, 2011), organized by long-time People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) activist Dr Tul Sitthisomwong, with other protests planned over the coming days.

The PAD, aka the yellow-shirts, were the group whose protests led to the 2006 coup which ousted Thaksin while he was in New York attending a United Nations summit and reorganized in 2008 to rally against the government of Samak Sundaravej, before chasing his government out of Government House and occupying it, both Bangkok airports and a number of regional airports, resulting in the stranding of hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors. ( Continues … )

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John Le Fevre

John Le Fevre

Deputy editor, Thailand & GMS editor at The Establishment Post

John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 35 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and copy editor.

He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

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