Chachoengsao Senator Nikom Wairatpanich last Tuesday defeated appointed senators vying for the new Senate Speaker position - the first time an elected member has achieved this. He talks to The Nation's KhanitthaThepphajorn and Somroutai Sapsomboon about
Q: Society has called into question the reconciliation bills [as being] only for Thaksin and not for national reconciliation.
A: I would rather have the reconciliation bills suspended and get a public understanding of the matter by giving them knowledge first. If the Lower House resolves to pass the bills, the Upper House will have to deliberate it. I believe there will be many alterations, but the Senate cannot stop the bills from being passed into law. The Constitution clearly states that the Senate can delay a law for not more than 90 days.
Q: Even though the proposed legislation refers to reconciliation bills – but actually it is an amnesty law of which the ultimate aim is to help Thaksin, don’t you agree?
A: I do. I think Thaksin should do soul-searching. Statesmen’s paths are those with thorns and obstacles such as those of Nelson Mandela, Ang San Suu Kyi, Mahatma Gandhi. If Thaksin agrees to go to jail, he will win the hearts of people all over the country. He will rise to being a statesman. I wish to see him as a statesman because he is valuable to the country. During his eight year in power, he helped make a great leap [forward for] the country. Over the past six years, the country has been lacklustre. If Thaksin agrees to accept a jail term for allowing his wife to buy the Ratchada land, he would set a new bar for our justice system. Other convicts commit more serious offences, they receive only suspended jail terms.
Q: Your standing point on charter amendment is reputed to bring about conflict.
A: I believe there are three ways out of our charter amendment crisis: One, call a third reading House vote; two, call a public referendum before calling a vote; three, suspend the amendment bill and take recourse in House regulation number 39 to propose charter amendment, article by article.
I personally prefer the second option, but I believe the government would opt for the third option which is to suspend the amendment bill and amend Article 68. The government believes that a public referendum should be held after the charter writers finish their charter draft.
Q: Reconciliation bills and charter amendment must be carried out at the same time if Thaksin is to come back.
A: No, they are not related. To help Thaksin, we need only the reconciliation bills.
Q: What does the future hold for our country? When will the conflicts be removed?
A: I see no future for our country because society does not use reason.
Q: Since you are an uncle of SuchartTancharoen, you are seen as someone who can balance the power of the government.
A: No. Suchart did not help me win the seat, if he had, I would have been attacked. Suchart is ill and cannot become involved. Actually I almost gave up from the beginning because I felt isolated. I have been attacked by many groups. Why do other groups gang up against me. Why do I face so much opposition?
Q: Really? People gang up against your being voted as Senate Speaker?
A: No. gang up means banning this person from being Speaker.
Q: Reports say SuthepThaugsuban, who is facing impeachment proceedings by the Senate over his alleged interference at the Culture Ministry, has also been lobbying against your rise to Speaker post?
A: I have no idea, but Suthep will receive justice as he can present any evidence to the Senate. It is not easy to remove an official because up to 89, or three fifth of votes, are needed.
Q: If the Senate can remove Suthep, it means the Senate is dominated by the government.
A: Not like that. Actually the Senate wants to remove many officials ever since the Constitution empowered us to do so, but so far we have not been able to remove one single official.
Q: Under your leadership, is it likely some officials would be successfully removed?
A: That has nothing to do with me. I am a Chair but senators vote to remove officials. Impeachment will be carried out with justice.
Q: Your role as the new Senate Speaker [comes with] criticism that you are not neutral.
A: Even though I am the Chacheongsao Senator and I am seen to have political affiliations because I am a relative of SuchartTancharoen, [for] my entire working life, I have only sided with the people. They accuse me of favouritism because they cannot find fault with me, so they resort to the incident where I supported the charter amendment and protested against the Opposition over their prolonged charter debate.
Let time prove me and see if I carry out my duty with neutrality. I am not going to be KhunKon number 2 (referring to House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont). I know House regulations by heart and for this role I must possess both artistry and science. I know I must have a sense of humour and compromise. Somsak was too strict and direct.
Wearing this hat, I will see both people who love me and hate me. I will coordinate with every party. Those who hate me, I do not know how to change their minds. I am a straightforward person. It is impossible for me to keep mum. The Senate Speaker does not have a head just to wear a hat.
Q: After completing your term, what is next?
A: I cannot stop working. I probably will continue to be in politics. If I can choose, I want to apply as a senatorial candidate. It is up to the charter amendment, if this is possible because the current Constitution bans Senators from engaging in politics for two years after their term.