The Thai Parliamentary Speaker announced on June 12th that two contentious bills in the House of Representatives will be deferred until the next session of the parliament in August, putting off a possible earthquake that could have brought down the current government.
With the potential of street protests not seen in Thailand since 2010, there was great concern in the Kingdom,
but also within the ASEAN community, that war was in the offing between the present, democratically-elected government, and its antagonists in the opposition benches and among the yellow shirt movement.
The military swore a coup was not at hand, but the red shirt leadership had their contingency plans at the ready anyway.
This comes at a crucial time when new cabinet ministers are expected to join the government, including a senior member of the Phalang Chon party—led by Chonburi’s pre-eminent political family. Mr. Sontaya Kunplome, former Minister of Tourism and Sports, may join the Yingluck Shinawatra government soon and reclaim an important role among Thailand’s current leadership.
The Khunplome family has a long history of service in the Eastern region, with members currently heading up the provincial administration council, a district council, and–it is expected—Pattaya’s mayoralty after elections due this week. The wife of Mr. Sontaya, furthermore, serves in the national cabinet as the Minister of Culture.
The Phalang Chon party is rooted in Chonburi province, and is recognized as the driving political force in the expansion of industry, services and tourism in the province. The party’s clout has been strengthened by its alliance with Taksin Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party, and the muscle of the provincial branch of the red-shirt movement.
The two contentious bills that brought things to a boil this past week included:
1. A constitutional revision bill; and
2. A reconciliation bill.
The first is an attempt by the Taksin/red shirt reformists to amend the Thai constitution to eliminate what they consider undemocratic clauses—a hold-over of the 2006 military coup. And the second bill is an effort to forgive all those—on either side of the political spectrum—who committed offenses or errors during the politically tumultuous period of 2005-2011.
Anti-Taksin elements consider the two bills as attempts to “whitewash” Taksin of his court conviction and other legal problems and return him to Thailand to resume his leadership of the Thai government. The bills are also seen as attempts to rid the government of independent agencies that are standing in the way of full democratisation.
The hidden concern is also that the constitutional revision bill may lead to tampering of the present Thai government system, described as “a democracy with His Majesty the King as Head of State.” Prime Minister Yingluck and her government have always denied this is the intent of the reform bill, but the opposition and its yellow-shirt supporters are taking no chances.
The “hand-grenade” that raised the issue to a whole new level was a request from the Constitutional Court that the parliament defer its final reading of the Constitutional reform bill, due June 12th; many in the current government party wanted to defy the court, and independent legal minds were counseling a cooling-off period instead. The yellow shirt movement was “ready to rumble” once again, raising the specter of political demonstrations and possibly another coup.
But finally, the Prime Minister announced these issues would be brought up for discussion in two months’ time, not this month, thereby defusing the very tense situation that had developed rather suddenly.
It is hoped that, come August, a more considered approach to these two bills will resolve the serious chasm that exists between the left and right in Thailand. There is a strong desire that reconciliation occurs for the benefit of economic development, increased tourism and the future expansion of Pattaya, Chonburi province, and all of Thailand.
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