ALL attempts to reconcile Thailand’s divided society appear to be going around in circles.
One of the junta’s purported reasons to stage the coup in May 2014 was to resolve the many conflicts affecting society. Yet, nothing has been accomplished so far, despite the setting up of three panels and plans for one more to study the issue.
In June last year, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) set up the Centre for Reconciliation and Reform to promote reform, unity and reconciliation at village and provincial levels. This centre came under the Defence Ministry’s responsibility as well as under the Internal Security Operations Command.
The centre held several activities, including providing free food and a concert, in a move to bring conflicting sides together. However, its most well-known achievement, so far, has been to invite those opposed to the junta for “attitude adjustment”.
Then a sub-panel tasked with promoting reconciliation was set up under the now-defunct National Reform Council (NRC), which has since been replaced by the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA). This panel, chaired by Anek Laothamatas, was dissolved after the first draft charter was shot down by previous reformers and the NRC disbanded.
Anek’s panel had come up with a six-point report on reconciliation, which included building public understanding about the cause of political conflicts, establishing the facts about violent incidents, and an amnesty plan for protesters who did not face corruption, severe criminal or lese majeste charges. Yet nobody looked into the proposal or ways to implement it.
Once the present Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) was set up to write a new draft, chief drafter Meechai Ruchuphan set up another sub-panel to find ways to bring society together. This was the third reconciliation panel since the coup.
And just last week, yet another proposal for setting up a fourth reconciliation committee was floated. This idea came from the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), with NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai saying the aim of the panel was to seek ways to promote reconciliation and mend rifts in society.
This panel will invite more than 20 representatives from all concerned political parties and groups to participate. The assembly then aims to come up with a solution to propose to the NCPO and the government in 180 days. The NLA is set to discuss today whether the panel should be established.
If it does approve this panel, then it will mean that four of the “five rivers” of authority – the NCPO, the NRC, the CDC and the NLA – will all have studied the issue of reconciliation.
The question is whether any of these studies will ever be implemented.
Here’s a timely reminder of a previous events that might be instructive.
Back in July 2010, Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government appointed former attorney-general Kanit na Nakhon as chair of the Truth for Reconciliation Committee of Thailand (TRCT) – this was two months after the red-shirt riots left 92 dead and some 2,000 injured.
The TRCT was subsequently backed by the Yingluck Shinawatra government, but it was given no powers to consider amnesty for those involved in politically-related violence.
In 2012, the commission released its final report on political violence and its key points were similar to those proposed by other panels – mainly that those “who committed crimes due to political motivation” be treated differently from other criminals.
The TRCT’s final report also looked to be treating both sides of the political divide in a balanced way, holding both red-shirt supporters and government forces, including the military, responsible for escalating the situation. But handling of the matter has clearly been linked to political will.
Perhaps, the current rulers should consider these studies and take real action instead of setting up more |panels.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has always said that all criminals need to serve their time before receiving pardons.
Although many people agree with him on this point, more flexible measures can also be taken. For instance, ordinary protesters who have committed minor offences could be spared legal action. Also, no double standards should be employed when dealing with conflicting sides.
This is, perhaps, the only way reconciliation will manifest into reality, otherwise hopes to achieve a peaceful society will remain a faint glimmer.