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On Monday night, in the midst of tens of thousands of anti-government protestors, Thailand’s senate unanimously rejected the controversial amnesty bill. All one hundred and forty one senators present voted against the legislation which critics say was designed to allow Thaksin Shinawatra to return from self exile. Deputy speaker Surachai Lengboonlertchai said “This house rejects this bill for consideration” Ms Yingluck’s government had argued that the legislation was a necessary step towards reconciliation, after several years of political turmoil.
Hated by many of the Bangkok middle and upper middle classes Thaksin still draws great support from the rural poor, however despite the bill being rejected an estimated fifty thousand protestors remain in Bangkok fueling fears that there will be further clashes with authorities in the capital.
A spokesman for her party said the ruling coalition would not bring this bill back to parliament, adding the opposition protests were now groundless. “We believe from tomorrow the political crisis will start to ease as there are no reasons to maintain the protest” said Pormpong Nopparit. However anti-government forces earlier vowed to keep up their mass rally. A key Democrat leader vowed to turn up the heat on Yingluck’s government and urged supports to observe a three-day strike starting on Wednesday.
“I ask you to clear all your work tomorrow and then on the 13th, 14th and 15th of November we will stage a nationwide strike” former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban said to cheers of approval a few hours before the senate vote.
Thaksin is still living in self imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence for his corruption conviction that he maintains was politically motivated. Had the amnesty bill gone ahead he would have been excused of those charges along with Suthep who is facing murder charges related to the bloody crackdown on protestors in 2010 when the Democrats were in power alongside party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Prior to the vote protestors on the streets were in a volatile mood. One protestor named Thamathon said “I came here to expel the Shinawatra family, I want them out, Don’t say there and cheat this country, Get out!”
To date the rallies have been peaceful but concerns are growing that this issue could unleash a fresh bout of political turmoil in the country that has been dogged by a series of rival demonstrations since 2006. During the vote thousands of police were deployed to protect government house and Yingluck’s offices in case the protest turned ugly. The police were armed with tear gas, batons, rubber bullets and water cannons that according to Police General Adul Saengsingkaea, were only to be used if really necessary if the protest got out of hand.
The senate debate coincided with a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague which found that most of an area around an ancient temple on the Thai border belongs to Cambodia.
Any public anger in Thailand over the ICJ’s decision is likely to be directed against the government by the country’s opposition — which includes some hardline nationalists among its supporters.