Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra defended the controversial amnesty bill on Tuesday, insisting it would further reconciliation, but left the final decision up to the Senate.
A protester at the Democracy Monument, which the Democrat Party has occupied as a rally site, blows his whistle to show his opposition to the amnesty bill. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
"I would like the Senate, which comprises elected and selected senators and those who are for and against the government, to exercise their judgement,'' she said at Government House.
The Senate could not be interfered with in making its decision, and MPs should respect the senators' decision, she added.
The controversial bill is expected to be tabled for debate in the Senate for the first reading on Monday after its unopposed approval by the House of Representatives at 4.25am on Friday in the absence of the main opposition Democrat Party.
The government is facing rallies led by the Democrat Party, which is holding fort at the Democracy Monument, and another group led by the Anti-Thaksin Coalition camped at Uruphong intersection. Business groups and academics have also come out strongly against the bill.
They demanded it be dropped.
The main controversy centres on an offer of blanket amnesty for politically related offences since Jan 1 2004 inserted into the amended bill. They argue that includes her elder brother, former prime minister Thaksin, and all corruption cases.
The original draft legislation approved in the first reading in the House covered only the public and protesters involved in the unrest from Sept 19, 2006 to May 10, 2011. The Pheu Thai-dominated committee that then scrutinised the bill also amended it.
Ms Yingluck defended the amended bill, saying it was in line with the government's policy on bringing reconciliation and unity to the country.
She attacked protesters, without naming names, saying they were not ready for forgiveness and instead showed signs they would turn to violence to unseat the government and democracy.
"I don't want the amnesty bill to be used as a political tool to stir debate by confusing the details and distorting it,'' she said.
Academics, media critics, anti-Thaksin groups and the Democrat Party argue it is about the return of assets worth 46 billion baht seized from Thaksin and his family. This means it is a financial bill, affecting the state budget, and must be endorsed by the prime minister.
Ms Yingluck denied that the bill is financially related and said it would not whitewash all corruption cases.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva argued that the prime minister was trying to hide the main thrust of the bill, which was aimed at giving amnesty in corruption cases. There would be no compromise on corruption, he said, and urged Ms Yingluck to "stop talking from the script''.
"The prime minister must come out of the shadow of her brother and the other people around her,'' Mr Abhisit said. They had directed her to send the message, he added.
Suriyasai Katasila, a leader of the Anti-Thaksin Coalition and coordinator of Green Politics, said Ms Yingluck's statement showed no sign the government would relent on its intent to push through the bill, but had instead handed the Upper House "a hot taro".
The government was lobbying senators to support the bill, he added.
Mr Suriyasai said the prime minister's attack on the protesters was an attempt to distort the gist of the bill in the name of "forgiveness" and would only worsen the situation.
The only thing that will stop the bill is opposition from all groups, he added.