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Straight to the Point : Our Appointed Legislature Needs to be Closed Down!

This week my organisation, the Thai NGO Co-coordinating Committee on Development, which represents the common views and objectives of Thai NGOs and people's networks involved in community and social development, will be waging a campaign for the immediate closure of the National Legislative Assembly appointed after the 2006 military coup.

 

The campaign has come about as a result of a consultation that we held with various NGO/people's networks who have been monitoring on-going and impending legislation within the NLA on issues related to their fields of interest.

 

The common conclusion that we reached is that the bureaucrat/technocrat establishment is having a field day pushing through legislation of all kinds that strengthen their power and control over society at the expense of the rights of communities and the rights of the people as stipulated in our present constitution.

 

Of course, the on-going legislation of greatest concern is the Internal Security Bill, opposed by most of civil society, media and journalist associations, and a large number of prominent academics. Despite this huge opposition, the bill passed its first reading in the NLA by 101 votes to 20 with two abstentions.

 

As I explained in a previous article, if passed into law this legislation would reserve a permanent place for the military establishment in the Thai political power structure, and allow military officers and their appointed civilian deputies to override basic civil rights guaranteed in the constitution. It would undermine democracy in Thailand on a permanent basis.

 

Recently Dr. Surachart Bamrungsuk, the renowned security expert from Chulalongkorn University, called for the academic and NGO members of the NLA who opposed the bill during the first reading to resign in protest. None of them did. If a number of NLA opponents of the bill had resigned, this would have added significant momentum to the campaign against the bill.

 

Also in the NLA pipeline is the Water Resource Bill which gives state agencies control of all water resources in the country, including resources traditionally managed by rural communities such as the "Muang-Fay" irrigation groups and networks that have operated for centuries in northern Thailand. This is clearly against the spirit of the constitution which stipulates the rights of communities to manage their local resources. If passed by the NLA, small subsistence farmers could, for the first time, be charged for the water they use to grow rice.

 

Then there is the Radio and Television Broadcasting Bill (not to be confused with the Public Broadcasting Act) which if passed by the NLA in its present draft would allow both the military establishment and the Public Relations Department to retain all their present broadcasting frequencies indefinitely, thus preventing any real media reforms in terms of equal distribution of broadcasting frequencies among various social sectors. Army Radio and Television would be here to stay, hogging up a sizeable proportion of the air waves.

 

Then there is the National Agricultural Council Bill which would create an agricultural policy making body consisting mainly of bureaucrats and representatives of agri-businesses. The millions of small farmers who grow our rice would have insignificant representation in this assembly.

 

I could go on with more examples.

 

The bottom line is that the unelected and unrepresentative NLA is hastily pushing through dangerous legislation infringing on the rights of the population without proper public hearings and without regard for public opinion.

 

There is absolutely no justification to rush through such controversial legislation when we will soon have an elected parliament much more accountable to the public.

 

We are inviting members of the public to join us in our campaign to close down the NLA by joining in our campaign activities and by signing a Thai-language petition available on a number of websites including www.prachatai.com .

 

 

Jon Ungphakorn is a former elected senator for Bangkok and at present the Chairman of the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development. Comments are welcome at: ungjon@usa.net

First Published in Bangkok Post