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'Election must go ahead'

A man dressed like superhero

A man dressed like superhero

Participants at govt forum back February 2 poll; say winning party must commit to reform agenda

Suggestions and promises filled a meeting room in the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre yesterday, where most participants said the best way to solve the political crisis was to hold a general election on February 2 next year.

In the government-hosted forum to find solutions to end the current impasse, politicians, academics and red-shirt leaders also agreed that talks on reforms should continue to ease groups' differences over the long-term.

Joining the forum were representatives from seven major business organisations, the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD or red shirts), the Assembly for the Defence of Democracy (AFDD), academics, permanent secretaries, police and military officers, state enterprise employees, the media, plus political parties and senators.

However, two key groups calling for change - the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and Democrat Party - did not attend this event.

PDRC leader Sathit Wongnongtoey announced yesterday that the group would start a pre-election reform campaign on Monday and vowed that the group would not to soften its stance or seek any negotiations with the government.

At the forum yesterday, Nikorn Chamnong, an adviser to Chart Thai Pattana, said the party would join the election, as it shared the international conviction that nothing is better than returning power to the people. Yet, the party also saw the need for further talks, to resolve long-standing differences on political ideals.

Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Phonghtep Thepkanjana expressed disappointment that the PDRC opted out of the forum but said comprehensive reform would take years to complete. However, it would take only two years to set a reform mechanism in place, for a transparent and fair political system and elections.

He agreed with academics' proposals that politicians ratify the will to reform, before joining the election. Any party winning the poll would have to carry out the reform process. After two years in office, the government would then dissolve the House and call a new election.

Chaturon Chaisang, as a representative of Pheu Thai Party, admitted that the election would partially ease differences. "The crisis stems from not only some groups' belief that the election will not be transparent, but also their lack of faith in the electoral system and democracy."

The issue now, he said, was how to ensure that the election was the best way to ease the crisis. At the forum, he urged all politicians to make a vow what they can do in this regard and what they will do after the election.

"Post-election reforms are possible, if all agree to a limited term for the new government. Winning the election, the government would not survive long anyway. However, without ratification from all parties, the problem will not end in light of the issue of advantage and disadvantage."

PM's Office secretary-general Tongthong Chandrangsu, who represented the government in hosting yesterday's forum, said it was agreed at the forum that short- and long-term reforms were necessary and they will deal not only with political issues but also economic issues, corruption, a redistribution of administrative power, and equality.

"No matter what happens in our Kingdom, the reforms must proceed," he said. Tongthong also welcomed the calls for his office to mediate the formation of a national reform network. Though unsure when the network could kick off, he considered this a good gesture for the country.

Participants at the forum also opposed the PDRC's push for a "People’s council", saying this would lead to a bigger crisis including a possible uprising.

Permanent secretary of Defence, General Nipat Thonglek, said military leaders, led by Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimaprakorn, gave their stance on Saturday - that they back a general election on February 2. "The military are ready to support the Election Commission (EC) to ensure a free and fair election.".

He insisted that the military had an important duty to protect the Constitution and maintain democracy.

National Legislative Assembly (NLA) member Gothom Arya demanded that the Democrat Party show its stance - and that it would not boycott the February 2 election.

Tongthong said that despite some argument, most participants at the forum yesterday agreed to hold the election on February 2. He also referred to the Army's offer to help to ensure transparency.

In supporting the election, National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut also said the NSC was ready to campaign for cooperation from all civil servants, soldiers and police.

Verapat Pariyawong, who describes himself as an independent lawyer, said PDRC leaders had accused the "Thaksin regime" of being illegitimate since the government rejected a ruling of the Constitution Court. So, the PDRC must respect the charter and go to a fresh election. He said the election should be open to all observers.

"If we accept some conditions to respond to the PDRC's demands, it will set a new social norm and the country will enter into a danger zone." He supported the proposal for political parties to ratify the task of reform for the new government.



Key proposals at 3 forums

Private sector: Four options for dealing with the economy, the electoral system, inequality and corruption were announced a day after meeting with the PDRC.

Army-hosted forum: Army leaders insist the February 2 election date must be maintained, with proposals to reform some areas, such as a statutory limit on corruption cases. The PDRC pushed for a People’s Council.

Govt forum: Politicians, academics and red-shirts joined this, but not the PDRC. All supported the Feb 2 poll date, with a promise to have the new government carry out a reform process in two years.




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