Thammasat University rector Somkit Lertpaithoon yesterday expressed concern that the tendency of people to not respect others’ rights and freedom of expression could lead to political violence. However, he said civic movements have come of age in Thai democracy 36 years since the October 6, 1976 massacre.
Somkit was speaking at an event at the university to commemorate the massacre. He said Thais have learned more about democracy but he disagreed with the red shirts’ protest against lecturers of the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) for their opposition to the government’s rice-pledging scheme as it disrespected the lecturers’ right to have different opinions.
He said the incidents of October 14, 1973 and October 6, 1976 had pushed Thai society towards big change. Besides that, the people who had a prominent role in such movements and their generation were politically active at present. As a result, the anti-dictatorship mindset has been cultivated deeply among Thais.
Although there were times when people may have supported a military coup, there was general agreement that democracy must be upheld. However, it must be admitted that political parties and politicians are behind civic movements nowadays, he said.
He added that although people had learned more about democracy, and more people had joined political movements, differences in political views, disrespect of the laws or abuse of the laws could result in worsening the divide. People have to learn more to respect the rights of others as well as protest within limits, he said.
“I believe that in the end, Thai society will find a solution. We need compromises, reconciliation, amnesty and forgiveness, but at the moment we don’t know for whom and how. I believe that we will find a solution that can lead to national development soon,” Somkit said.
Answering a reporter’s question, Somkit said he did not think that severe political division among the people as happened three years ago would re-occur as the government had learned its lessons. The government was unlikely to move forward with what the yellow shirts have been opposing – a reconciliation bill that is aimed at helping former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and a charter amendment that is aimed at benefiting politicians. If the government pushes these two issues, he believed it would lack the red shirts’ support as it is not in their interest.
The 36th anniversary commemoration event at Thammasat University was attended by many people, especially the relatives of those who died in the incidents in 1973 and 1976. They presented alms to 19 monks and lay wreaths at the October 6, 1976 memorial. Representatives from many groups gave speeches. Most of them urged all people to be tolerant towards different opinions and said they did not want to see more violence.
In his speech, Thammasat University historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul called for the release of people being detained for violations of Article 112 of the Penal Code – the lese majese law – as they are all political detainees.
The deputy dean of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, Pitch Pongsawat, said he believed the political structure that led to the violence 36 years ago had not been fixed. They included the attitudes towards different opinions and violence, the “permission to use violence” and the belief that a military coup can end rifts in society.
“From October 6, 1976, although there were calls for finding the truth, they were not for reconciliation. There was no ‘single truth’ that dwelled on preventing the same conflict. In my opinion, reconciliation must be based on the principle that everyone must undergo the justice procedure, all evidence must be revealed and everyone must face legal cases fairly, rather than saying all parties are responsible for the mistakes,” he said.
Thammasat University student Panithan Prueksakasemsuk, the son of Somyos – leader of the June 24 Group who is being detained for the charge on Article 112 – said the Administrative Court and the Constitution Court at the moment could not really protect the people’s rights. He called for full protection. And in the future, if there is any incident like October 6, 1976, the law must stop any use of state power that could hurt the people. Otherwise, the penalties for such a conduct must be severe.
Patchanee Khamnak from Turn Left, a Marxist group, called for the establishment of political parties that belong to the people. Capitalists, not the people, currently own political parties and they lean on the economic system, bringing more disparity in society, she said.
The Pheu Thai Party’s policies such as the Bt300 minimum daily wage, Bt15,000 minimum salary for graduates and the Bt30 universal healthcare scheme were just launched to half-heartedly solve the problems, she said.