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Citizen empowerment should be focus of new charter, scholar advises

Jun 12. 2015
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By WIRAJ SRIPONG
THE NATION

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FOCUS should be placed on empowering citizens under the new constitution, scholar and noted intellectual Thirayuth Boonmee said yesterday.
The new charter should give people space to express themselves, said Thirayuth, adding that each community should be able to determine its own fate. 
Speaking at a conference on reducing political and socio-economic disparities and the path towards democracy organised by the National Health Commission Office of Thailand, he expressed concerns over how the notion of being a citizen would be applied in the new constitution. 
The political system should encourage more public participation rather than exclude it, said Thirayuth, who compared the notion of being a citizen in the Western context and the Thai context. 
“Being a citizen here should mean being an individual who upholds the values of serving public interests,” he said.
The notion of being a citizen in the Western context has evolved over time and developed into the notion of civic duty – where people bear the responsibility of actively engaging in politics, he said. 
In the past, Thai society has not embraced the notion of citizens as “people power”, but rather as subjects under those in power. That is the reason the notion of being a citizen is stronger in European society than in Thai society. 
“The notion that is used in the draft charter reflects the good intentions [of the drafters] but the matter was introduced prematurely,” he said. This is why it has stirred up strong public scepticism, said Thirayuth.
“I do not oppose the use of this notion [in the new constitution], but it has to be supported by measures that really create public participation.”
Civil society should be able to decide its own fate, as should local communities, he said. 
In terms of power, Thai society has a multi-centred structure. Therefore, the central authority should pave the way for decentralisation of power to empower local communities, according to Thirayuth. 
Bantoon Setsirot, a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee, said the drafters shared the same opinion as Thirayuth on the notion of being a citizen in the new constitution. 
Bantoon said that meant creating new bodies to empower public participation in the decision-making process, increasing people’s rights and freedoms, and allowing people direct participation in politics. 
Pairote Polpetch, a member of the Legal Reform Committee, said that in reality the general public only had the right to access information despite the 1997 and 2007 constitutions enabling public participation in certain policy-making processes such as on social and economic issues.
Pirote said that although the current draft charter mentioned the issue of public empowerment, there was still a great concern that the importance of the issue would be reduced when it reached the final stage of the discussion.

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