LONGSTANDING RED-YELLOW DIVIDE COMES TO FORE AGAIN
POLITICAL leaders and activists have received the latest report by the National Reform Council’s reconciliation committee with mixed reactions.
The report was completed on Friday. It was submitted to NRC chairman Thienchay Kiranandana on Monday for deliberation before being forwarded to the government.
The report suggested six key measures for reconciliation including amnesties. It suggested amnesty for all except those involved in serious criminal or human-rights violations, corruption, and lese majeste, stirring wide debate on whether this was appropriate.
Colour-coded camps received the report with a mixture of cheers and jeers.
Chaturon Chaisang, former education minister under the Pheu Thai Party, said he agreed that reconciliation should take place, but the recommendations in the report appeared unachievable and misdirected.
He said the report suggested reconciliation should come under the new constitution, and a new strategic reconciliation promotion committee that would be created under the charter would be the wrong start.
First of all, he said, it was not certain how long it would take to formulate the new constitution or whether it would be accepted and put into effect. Besides, it would be difficult to proceed with or correct reconciliation procedures if they were tied up with the constitution.
The constitution itself, he added, may create new conflicts if it remains in its present form.
Chaturon said the proposed amnesty measures were a bit too late, as many demonstrators have already been punished. Meanwhile the amnesty proposed for political leaders and government supervisors was not likely to be meaningful as the preconditions were too murky.
Reconciliation, in Chaturon’s view, involves all sides getting together from the start to look into the causes of conflict and to find solutions.
He said that so far he had not seen any signs of understanding of the issue from the government except its wish to end arguments between opponents. That, he said, was not reconciliation.
“What we are discussing is the attempt to solve the problem at its end, but what we need is understanding of the causes and finding solutions so that they will not happen again.”
He suggested a forum where all sides sit together for talks plus impartial bodies to work together to figure out the best way out of conflicts.
Thida Thavornseth, former chairwoman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, agreed with Chaturon, saying the report was of little use now given the fact that many demonstrators had served their penalties.
She said the behaviour of the military regime was perceived by its opponents as a way to suppress them, citing the case of the 14 students arrested for criticising the coup and pressing for a return to democracy.
“Injustice and conflicts are increasing every day, so how could reconciliation be possible?” said Thida, giving another example of the city-hall arson incident, claiming some defendants had only watched the incident. Yet they were found guilty, prosecuted and jailed for five years.
“The report tries to reconcile every party theoretically, while everything in reality is nothing near the claimed utopia,” she said, questioning who benefits most from the recommendations in the report.
“To correct a wrong, the idea from the start has to be right, so that it can lead to right actions.”
But the yellow-shirt and Democrat Party camps viewed the report differently.
Suriyasai Katasila, People’s Alliance for Democracy coordinator, said he agreed in principle with the committee’s report as the recommendations would benefit a majority of ordinary demonstrators.
As he is also a party to the conflict, he said he might not be able to discuss this much, but noted that reconciliation normally took time, twice as long as the conflict itself. So it might need up to 20 years to restore a conciliatory society in Thailand, and a strategic plan to drive this was needed.
So far, he said, he has not yet seen any serious signs that the government wants to develop such a plan to support the work of reconciliation, which is a must, Suriyasai said.
Earlier, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, accused of giving a directive to crack down on red-shirt demonstrators in 2010, voiced support for amnesty for a majority of ordinary demonstrators. But he cautioned that it should not be blanket amnesty and the public should be allowed to take part in a discussion on the criteria for granting amnesty to protest leaders.
Ekachai Chainuvati, a law lecturer from Siam University, cited what former British prime minister Tony Blair said about the reconciliation issue in Thailand in 2012. Blair said that what his country learned about reconciliation in Northern Ireland could be adapted to Thai contexts.
“According to standard reconciliation principles, first, every involved party has to have shared opportunities. Second, every party has to understand and comply with each other’s differences,” Ekachai said.
“Thus it can be noticed that the current reconciliation committee established by the NRC does not follow the first principle. The [National Council for Peace and Order] doesn’t see shared opportunities that every party wants to move forward for the sake of country.”
Ekachai said undemocratic powers always got involved whenever there were political conflicts.
He also pointed to flaws he saw in the proposal: “It is not based on the will of the Thai people, but is a conclusion proposed by now-powerful actors.
“I suggest that the NCPO stop using Article 44, so people can propose reconciliation [of their own will], as currently, this article is blocking people from expressing their thoughts freely.”