NLA 'doesn' t represent' all of the people
Critics call assembly chamber of generals that is made up of 'Prem's sons'
Former Bangkok senator Wallop Tangkhananurak reports for duty at the Parliament building yesterday as a newly appointed member of the National Legislative Assembly.
Suspicion and criticism greeted yesterday's formal appointment of 242 people to the National Legislative Assembly, as military officers close to Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda and opponents of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra appear to dominate the interim parliament.
Some critics call the NLA, which acts as the House of Representatives, "a chamber of generals" while others say it lacks representatives from the poor majority, Thaksin's proclaimed support base.
The national legislative body received royal endorsement a few days after Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont passed to the palace a list of the members picked by the Council for National Security (CNS) - the real governing body led by all the brass who organised the military coup on September 19.
Prem is believed to have influenced the selection as his close aides, dubbed "Prem's sons", stand out in the NLA list.
They include Vice Admiral Pachun Tampratheep as Prem's secretary, General Panthep Phuwanartnurak, General Pairoj Panitsamai, General Oud Buangbon, Admiral Prajet Siridej, Admiral Prasert Boonsong and General Preecha Rojsen.
Thaksin's fiercest opponents, who had campaigned along with the People's Alliance for Democracy for a royally-appointed prime minister to replace him, also got NLA seats.
They are Prasong Soonsiri, Chamlong Srimuang, Surapol Nitikraipoj, Chai-anan Samudvanijaya, Wutthipong Priabchariyawat and Praphan Khoonmee.
Three legal experts who had long served the Thaksin government - Meechai Ruchuphan, Wissanu Krea-Ngam and Borwornsak Uwanno - managed to find room in the NLA although some democracy activists had cried foul over the possibility of them getting selected.
Former deputy premier Purachai Piumsombun, who helped found the Thai Rak Thai Party with Thaksin in 1998, is one of the members.
Suriyasai Katasila, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, called the NLA the "chamber of generals". Suriyasai said the assembly was lopsided with almost one-third of the legislators, or 76, coming from the police and military. The silent majority, such as farmers and community members, as well as a range of professionals such as doctors and nurses, were noticeably under-represented, he said.
Suriyasai said he worried that people would misunderstand the military's intention, that it might try to use the assembly to perpetuate its political power. "We can only give them a chance to prove that they intend to work for the masses and have no hidden agenda," he said.
Thai Rak Thai deputy spokesman Jatuporn Prompan said he was not surprised after seeing the names in the NLA. They were being rewarded for opposing the Thaksin government.
He dismissed as insignificant that former Thai Rak Thai deputy leader Phinij Jarusombat won a place in the assembly, saying Phinij had resigned from the party.
Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said he wondered why the CNS allowed people who served in the Thaksin administration to join the NLA. He was referring to Wissanu and Borwornsak. "I feel deeply disappointed and think that the CNS is hopeless."
He opposed the move to appoint former Senate speaker Meechai Ruchupan as chairman of the NLA, saying the country has plenty of legal experts. Meechai should step aside for someone younger to assume the role and he should only be an adviser.
Democrat Party deputy leader Alongkorn Polabutr said it was natural that the public would have doubts about Meechai, Wissanu and Borwornsak because of their previous roles, but the public should give them one year to prove that they would not disappoint the people again.
He hailed the appointments of four representatives from political parties - Surin Pitsuwan from the Democrats, Kanchana Silapa-archa from Chat Thai, Akapol Sorasuchart from Mahachon and Phinij Jarusombat from Thai Rak Thai.
The assembly includes 17 permanent officials at the C-11 level; 12 judiciary officials and public prosecutors; 35 military officers; seven police officers; eight state-enterprise employees; six bankers, 19 representatives of the trade, service, transport, construction and real estate businesses, and 11 representatives of general businesses.
Also selected were seven representatives of lawyers; 11 academics from the fields of philosophy, religion, arts and culture; 20 representatives of the media, entertainers, artists and writers; and 43 retired civil servants.
Apart from debating bills, the assembly will approve the new constitution before asking for royal endorsement.
Army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, as head of the CNS, insisted that the CNS would not interfere in the selection process for the assembly's chairman.
The assemblymen would select their own chairman and vice chairmen, he said.
Sonthi spoke shortly after activists had voiced concern that the CNS would push for the appointment of Meechai, a former Senate speaker and adviser of the Thaksin government, as the NLA chairman.
Surapol, rector of Thammasat University, is also said to be a leading candidate for NLA chairman.
Borwornsak defended his inclusion in the new legislative body, saying society should give him a chance to prove himself in his mission to serve the country in crisis.
"I resigned from the Thaksin government when the public wanted me to quit. And I did it," he said. "Why shouldn't they [his critics] give me a chance? They really want national reconciliation, don't they?"
Tuanjai Deetes, a former senator who became an NLA member, said the new legislative body should reconsider some laws that opened room for foreign investors to take advantage of Thais, including those supportive of free trade agreements.
Waemahadi Waedaoh, another former senator who is in the NLA, said he expected to see the NLA pass new laws or revise existing laws to support the livelihoods of Muslims.
That would lead to the right solution for the unrest in the deep South.
Jada Wattanasiritham, president of Siam Commercial Bank, said she would try her best to utilise her knowledge and skills in the new position.
Stock Exchange of Thailand president Patareeya Benjapolchai said she had just learned that she was one of the NLA members.
"I'm glad but quite concerned that I might not live up to their expectations. I hope I will take part in proposing ideas, savings in particular, that will benefit the country. We want to encourage long-term investment," she said.
She said she would have to talk with the SET's legal affairs division first before amending laws that hinder capital market development.