BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's Senate struggled to reach a quorum Friday for a vote on a contentious amnesty bill that could pave the way for the return from exile of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by a 2006 military coup.
The ruling party-backed bill would grant amnesties to leaders and others involved in often-violent political conflicts since 2004. Thousands of people have joined street protests this past week against the legislation, which they say is intended to let Thaksin escape a two-year jail term on a corruption conviction.
The Senate vote was moved to Friday from next Monday in what Thaksin's critics say was an effort to calm the protests, which have put heavy pressure on the government and the Senate. Anti-Thaksin senators boycotted Friday's session.
"There's no good reason to move the vote from Monday. This will make society feel that the Senate is under the government's influence," Sen. Rosana Tositrakul said.
Thaksin's sister and current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra made several attempts in televised addresses this week to assure protesters that the ruling Pheu Thai party will not attempt to pass the legislation again if the Senate strikes it down. The more-powerful lower house legally can pass legislation without Senate approval after a 180-day wait.
Sixty-seven of 149 senators attended Parliament Friday afternoon, eight short of a quorum. The Senate speaker had to call a break to try to persuade more lawmakers to join.
The bill, approved by the lower house last Friday, has set off daily demonstrations that have drawn tens of thousands of protesters onto Bangkok's streets.
The bill's original draft, approved in principle by the lower house in August, did not extend the amnesty to the leaders of pro- and anti-Thaksin groups, but a committee in mid-October changed the bill to include them, leading to criticism that is was intended all along to apply to Thaksin.
Thaksin was ousted by the military over allegations of corruption and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The bill has also drawn opposition from some Thaksin supporters who oppose immunity for Democrat Party leader and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy for their alleged roles in the deaths of scores of protesters in a bloody 2010 crackdown.