August 26, 2013 00:00 By Pravit Rojanaphruk The Nation
Participants say forum is move in right direction but warn govt must move quickly towards roadmap
The political reform forum kicked off yesterday with a sense of cautious optimism despite the
conspicuous refusal by the opposition Democrat Party to attend along with most other anti-government forces. After hours of meeting, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra proposed the creation of three reform committees to look into political, economic and social reforms.
No name has been announced yet but the PM’s Office Ministry will host future activities, with another meeting to be held in a month’s time. Letters of invitation will be sent to opposition parties again.
Yingluck cited seven key factors as major concerns at the end of the meeting. They are: Strengthening democracy, economic disparity, transparency and accountability, justice and basic rights, democratic participation, creating a climate of trust and forgiveness, and public interests.
Sixty-five high-profile people from politics, academia, business and people’s movements attended the five-hour forum, but were given less than 10 minutes each to speak.
Many lauded the forum yesterday, which was initiated by the prime minister, but also acknowledged difficulties as most anti-government forces have effectively boycotted the efforts.
“We genuinely want to see a roadmap [for the future],” said PM Yingluck after the first two hours of the meeting. “This forum is open to all sides.” Yingluck said she seeks to jointly come up with a vision for the future of Thai politics and society and will take all previous studies and recommendations made by various groups and commissions into consideration and quickly implement those that have broad-based consensus.
House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont said: “Thais have no time to fight with one another any longer, but we only talk about it and end up fighting again.”
Former premier Banharn Silapa-archa advised that those who were not present should be invited again to join the next round and suggested that both sides “take a step back”.
Wuthisarn Tanchai, deputy
secretary-general of King Prajadhipok’s Institute, said Thai society is plagued by distrust, but added the forum marked a good beginning as there’s now a venue to talk about problems.
Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anuthin Charnvirakul, the only leader from an opposition party to join the forum, said: “We will oppose when the government does something wrong. As for the political reform forum, I think what the government is doing is right. It’s not for the success of the government but for all Thais.”
Kittipong Kittayarak, permanent secretary of the Justice Ministry, warned that the challenge lies in how the forum can win the trust of all sides and to not let it be dominated by any side. “Those who did not join today should not be regarded as having missed the train.”
Former coup-leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who ousted then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the elder brother of Yingluck, in 2006 and is now leader of the Matuphum Party, said he is happy to be a part of the process and insisted that Thai democracy must remain “Thai-style” and not a facsimile of other nations’ systems. Sonthi added that poverty and a lack of quality education hamper Thai democracy.
Chairperson of the red-shirt Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship Thida Thavornsaet Tojirakarn warned that the effort will not bear fruit if people have no part in the process. She said the challenge is how to materialise equality amongst citizens, particularly political equality, and added that the root of political conflict is the conflict between the conservative elite and those who fight for democracy.
The only scathing view at the forum came from Teerapat Serirangsan, chairman of the Political Development Council, who warned: “If in three months there’s nothing, this forum is finished.”
The only senior figure linked to the opposition Democrat Party was former leader and former House Speaker Bhichai Rattakul, who joined in his personal capacity. Bhichai said he wanted to see a roadmap for Thailand’s future and expressed confidence that conflicts could be reduced if people could envision a common future.
He added that Malaysia used to be behind Thailand but it has a long-term roadmap and is now ahead of the Kingdom.
Former president of the Constitutional Court, Kamol Thongthammachart, also supported the idea of coming up with a roadmap.