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Thailand: Restore basic civil rights, NGOs urge

The Nation (Bangkok) 24 September 2006

Restore basic civil rights, NGOs urge

Pravit Rojanaphruk,

Sathien Viriyaphanpongsa

Accepting fait accompli, activists call for people’s participation and say ousted PM’s allies should not give legal advice

An alliance of non-governmental organisations yesterday tacitly acknowledged the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) but demanded that its leaders stop curbing basic civil rights such as freedom of assembly and expression and ensure real democratic reform takes place.

"If we can’t assemble to discuss politics, then we can’t make any political recommendations," said Saree Ongsomwang, a consumer-rights activist and a leader of the network.

The group expressed fears that some old faces associated with Thaksin Shinawatra’s government, such as former cabinet secretary-general Borwornsak Uwanno and former deputy premier Wissanu Krea-ngam, who are now helping the coup leaders by giving legal advice, may end up derailing the political reform process.

"We do not trust these technocrats to design the new house [of democracy] because it will have a back door for goons to come inside," said Rosana Tositrakul, an anti-corruption campaigner. "These people should not be around."

Rosana, whose senator-elect status has been nullified along with all others by the CDRM, said she did not approve of the CDRM but the coup was a fait accompli. "We must make the most [of the coup and what happened]."

The harshest criticism the group made was to say in their statement that the network condemned the coup as "causing a complete stalling of the democratic system, leading to the curbing of the rights and liberties of citizens in many respects".

The new network of dozens of NGOs from around the country, calling itself the NGOs Network for Political and Social Reform, urged the CDRM to bring in honest, courageous and ethical people- with no previous record of serving tyrants but with clear aspirations for democratic reform - into the interim cabinet and open the reform process to participation by ordinary citizens.

The group expressed doubts about the integrity of some members of the new National Counter Corruption Commission. It also urged the CDRM to restore the 1997 constitution until a new, complete charter is drafted and adopted.

Many members of the new network belonged to the now-dormant anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy. They said the CDRM and the incoming interim administration deserved a honeymoon period, spared from harsh criticism.

"I think there should be some time [for the CDRM to prove itself]," said Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk, chairwoman of the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development and a leading member of the network.

Rosana said the duration of the honeymoon had not yet been determined, but that did not mean the network would not monitor the new regime. "We should scrutinise them all the time," she said.

The network said it wanted the CDRM and the interim government to scrap free-trade agreements and the privatisation of state enterprises and to introduce progressive land and inheritance taxes. They also urged the CDRM to come up with social welfare programmes to replace Thaksin’s populist policies.

Saree said some patients seeking treatment under Thaksin’s Bt30 universal healthcare scheme had already been turned down by medical doctors but had no other options.

Similar criticism about old faces associated with the old regime now joining the reform process was made by two academics yesterday. Thammasat University law lecturer Bancherd Singkhaneti said Borwornsak, Wissanu and their colleagues had already caused much damage in the past. "These are people who supported Thaksin’s rule. I don’t understand why they’re being allowed to draft [new] law now."

Another Thammasat law lecturer, Prinya Thewanaruemitkul, added that these lawyers were "not honourable enough to look after the democratic system". He added that they had taken part in drafting the state of emergency decree in the deep South that caused much havoc until the present.

In related news, the group of students who staged Friday’s anti-coup protest met yesterday to discuss plans to stage a second protest tomorrow.

 source: The Nation