PM ’failed to consult the public’

Bangkok Post, 9 January 2006

THAI-US FTA SIXTH ROUND OF TALKS

PM ’failed to consult the public’

PREEYANAT PHANAYANGGOOR APINYA WIPATAYOTIN

The civic sector joined forces against the ongoing Thai-US free trade agreement (FTA) pact by drawing up a petition stating that it does not approve the mandate of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as being a representative of the Thai people in signing the deal. Pitaya Wongkul, chairman of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, said the government under Mr Thaksin was not in a position to sign the Thai-US FTA on behalf of the people because he had bypassed the public in the negotiation process.

’’Mr Thaksin was not our representative because his government neither consulted the general public about the FTA deal nor the parliament, which is the representative of the people under the democratic system,’’ he said.

He said the government negotiated the FTA without careful consideration and based its decisions on the interests of select people in government rather than the population as a whole.

’’The petition will be evidence that the people do not want Mr Thaksin to sign the Thai-US FTA deal on our behalf,’’ he said.

Mr Pitaya said the petition could also be useful in the future when a new government wanted to halt the pact and the case went to court, demonstrating that Mr Thaksin carried it out without the consent of the people.

He said the petition would be signed by as many people as possible, including activists, academics and the general public, to demonstrate their strong opposition to the Thai-US FTA pact. It would be handed to the US embassy before the sixth round of negotiations, which starts today in Chiang Mai and ends on Friday.

Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign affairs also plans to petition the Constitution Court tomorrow to seek a review of the FTA claiming it contravened the constitution.

Jaroen Khamphirapap, deputy rector of Silpakorn University, called on the United States to halt negotiations with the Thaksin administration.

’’The US, which always upholds the value of democracy and human rights, should not hold talks with the Thaksin government, which bypasses the democratic process and damages democracy,’’ he said. ’’Once the FTA is signed, our people’s constitution will have no meaning. International laws will outweigh our domestic laws. The rights of global investors will be protected while the sovereignty of Thailand will be destroyed.’’

Mr Jaroen expects the government to hastily wrap up the deal by June 2006 because some people in government wanted to protect their own interests as quickly as possible. ’’The deal, for example, will help guarantee the protection of licences and concessions which were granted to existing investors so they will not be revoked even if a new government comes into power due to the binding agreement under the FTA.’’

Democrat MP Kalaya Sophonpanich urged Mr Thaksin to inform the people who or which businesses would benefit from the pact.

’’I would like to ask the prime minister what right he has to trade the benefits of the people with the interests of some business groups,’’ she said.She said Thais would become slaves and economic victims of the pact which allowed foreigners to take advantage of Thailand in areas such as drug patents and the right to register patents of herbs or other living things native to the country.

Mr Thaksin did not want to submit the FTA deal to parliament for scrutiny as he feared ’’hidden truths’’ would be revealed.

Meanwhile, in Chiang Mai, police have beefed up security to prevent the possibility of violence breaking out during the Thai-US FTA talks. A police officer said they were told to keep an eye out for a group of Muslim students, who had reportedly travelled from the southernmost provinces to join the anti-free trade protest.

source: Bangkok Post