BANGKOK, Thailand -- The government's first apparent attempt to win an amnesty for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is a convicted international fugitive, failed after it was condemned as inappropriate to include him among 26,000 criminals eligible for a possible royal pardon.

Mr. Thaksin's sister is Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government reportedly included his name last week among a list to be presented to King Bhumibol Adulyadej for him to consider endorsing to mark his 84th birthday on Dec. 5.

The Justice Ministry's royal group pardon list is an annual tradition, but usually does not include fugitives.

Convicted individuals can also apply on their own through the ministry.

"Thaksin will not receive any benefit from the [royal] decree, and his name will not be included on the list of convicts eligible for a royal pardon," Justice Minister Pracha Promnok said on Sunday (Nov. 21), indicating the list would be rewritten by the government to delete Mr. Thaksin's name.

"Convicts on the run will not be eligible," Mr. Pracha said, according to the Nation newspaper.

"The new draft will not benefit anyone in particular, especially Thaksin, because those who are eligible for a royal pardon must have served [a portion of] their jail terms first."

Mr. Thaksin, 62, disputes his conviction for corruption and two-year jail sentence, and never served time in prison.

Mr. Thaksin's supporters had suggested he could fly to Thailand, and be symbolically detained by friendly police at a convenient location for several minutes -- to fulfill any demand that he serve at least some time in confinement.

After passing through that loophole, Mr. Thaksin could then be immediately pardoned and freed, according to that scenario.

Section 6 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows the possibility of a royal group pardon for anyone over 60 years old who has received a prison sentence of less than three years.

Behind closed doors on Nov. 15, the Cabinet approved the secretive list of 26,000 names which reportedly included Mr. Thaksin, resulting in threats by his opponents to stage street demonstrations and legal challenges.

To start the demonstrations, about 1,000 anti-Thaksin protesters gathered in central Bangkok on Friday (Nov. 18), demanding his name be deleted.

"The army chief has signed [on Friday (Nov. 18)] an order to transfer 221 battalion commanders to consolidate power to prepare for the expected fallout of a proposed pardon for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra," the Bangkok Post reported on Sunday (Nov. 20).

"All armed forces chiefs are concerned that anti-government demonstrations could start up again in response to reports that the government is planning to propose a royal pardon that would enable Thaksin to avoid jail time."

After the outcry over the inclusion of Mr. Thaksin's name, he publicly backed away from the move.

"I trust in the principle that the government will not do anything that will benefit me or any individual specifically," Mr. Thaksin said in a letter from self-exile on Sunday (Nov. 21), distributed by his supporters.

"I am ready to sacrifice my own happiness, even though I have not received justice for over five years. For the people, I will be patient," Mr. Thaksin said.

His sister, Prime Minister Yingluck, is basking in Washington's public support which was highlighted during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Bangkok on Nov. 16.

"We believe it is in the national security and political interest of the United States to have this government succeed, and we will do what we can to support that going forward," a senior State Department official told journalists on Nov. 14.

Amnesty, and impunity against prosecution, is a common blanket for politicians, security forces and others in this Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian country.

Last year, 91 people were killed in Bangkok when Thailand's U.S.-trained military clashed with Red Shirt insurrectionists who were demanding Mr. Thaksin be allowed to come home as a free man.

While crushing the protests, the military-backed government declared a "state of emergency" which gave officials and the armed forces immunity against prosecution for their actions.

After the bloodshed, Mr. Thaksin described his politically inexperienced sister as his "clone," enabling her to win a July election because voters expected her to orchestrate his return and refund his $1.2 billion in assets which a previous government seized.

In 2006, the military had toppled Mr. Thaksin's elected government, helped rewrite the constitution, and legally protected themselves with immunity against punishment for staging the coup.

They then helped arrange Mr. Thaksin's trial for corruption.

In 2008, he was convicted for a conflict of interest because in 2003 he had allowed his then-wife to buy government-owned real estate in Bangkok at a discount during his five-year administration.

On the run, but based mostly in Dubai, Mr. Thaksin later acquired a passport from Montenegro, apparently to help him avoid possible arrest and extradition while he traveled abroad making political statements to support the Red Shirts and Mrs. Yingluck's new government, and manipulating his vast investments.


Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California. He has reported news from Asia since 1978 and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, Hello My Big Big Honey! Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His website is:>Asia Correspondent

(Copyright 2011 Richard S Ehrlich)