Thailand's government had put forward proposals for an amnesty for convicts that seemed designed to allow self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return home without serving a sentence for abuse of power, Thai media reported on Wednesday.
The proposed amnesty had been agreed to at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, media said. No mention was made of it in a statement after the meeting, and ministers have declined to comment on the issue.
“Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was not present at the meeting, and all officials were asked to leave the room when the issue was deliberated,” the Bangkok Post newspaper said, citing sources at Government House, the prime minister’s office.
Yingluck, Thaksin’s sister, is widely seen as his proxy at the head of his ruling Puea Thai Party. Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon-turned-populist politician, was ousted by the military in a 2006 coup and remains a divisive figure in Thai politics.
The cabinet proposals, which would be put to the king to be endorsed for an amnesty around his birthday on December 5, would cover people over the age of 60 who had been sentenced to less than three years in prison, the Bangkok Post said.
Thaksin, 62, was convicted of abuse of power in 2008 and fled before a two-year sentence was handed down. He never spent any time in jail and lives in Dubai.
The newspaper said Yingluck was absent from the cabinet meeting because transport complications had caused her to spend Monday night in a flood-hit province she had visited during the day, although it quoted a military source as saying she could have come back to Bangkok by helicopter.
Yingluck had little political experience before leading Puea Thai to an election landslide in July. From the moment she took office in August, critics said she had been installed by Thaksin to help bring him home.
Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at the University of New South Wales, said it was too early for a still unproven Yingluck Shinawatra to risk political destabilisation by allowing her brother to return.
“A thing like this would just cause the waters to boil rather than calm down again, and I would have thought they had enough on their plate already,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia respected the right of Thailand, a good friend, to make its own decisions.
“That decision belongs to Thailand, but for reconciliation, we want to see stability and that the people are united, left and right, all colours,” he said.
Thaksin’s Red Shirt supporters paralysed parts of Bangkok from March to May last year in an attempt to oust the previous government, before the military moved in to crush their protests. At least 91 people were killed.