I am sure many people read or watched the news about the ''peaceful'' invasion of parliament last Wednesday at noon by around 100 demonstrators led by myself. This resulted in the meeting of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) being suspended by the Chair. I am well aware that our actions did not meet with the approval (to say the least) of the majority of the media and probably the majority of society.
Nevertheless, we did get a lot of messages of support from the public, and we did manage to get our cause well publicised in the media, which seemed to agree more with some of our objectives than with our methods.
Regular readers of this column will be aware that the NLA, which is a legislature appointed by the military, not an elected or representative parliament, is considering a number of important bills which will have a long-lasting impact on society. These bills, in the view of civil society organisations, violate many rights and principles stipulated in our present constitution. At the forefront is the Internal Security Bill which, if passed, would give the military a permanent position of political leverage in Thai society. This bill is widely opposed by civil society and by academics and media organisations.
My organisation, The Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD) has been campaigning for the NLA to stop considering 11 such bills (three have now been passed by the NLA), and on Nov 29, we submitted a petition to a representative of Meechai Ruchupan, the NLA Speaker, who was not available to see us.
In our view, it is inexcusable for the NLA to be hurriedly passing such controversial legislation just a few days before the election of a representative parliament which can consider these bills in a proper way with much greater democratic public involvement in the process. With no response to our petition, we went ahead and organised a peaceful mass rally against the NLA's consi-deration of these bills, together with a number of partner organisations such as the State Enterprise Worker Relations Confederation, the Four Regions Slum Network, and the Students Federation of Thailand.
Our objective last Wednesday was to try to put great pressure on the NLA to stop considering the eight bills remaining on our list by non-violent but by more forceful means than usual. We knew that an ordinary demonstration in front of parliament would have little effect on the NLA. We managed to get around 1,000 demonstrators from member and affiliate organisations, and one hour before the scheduled NLA meeting we were blocking all three gates to the parliament complex with demonstrators. This was not difficult, as parliamentary officials hurriedly locked and bolted the gates from within, as they were afraid we would invade the grounds. However, a gate to the adjacent Vimanmek Palace was opened by guards to allow members of the NLA to walk through to the parliamentary buildings, and we did not attempt to block this entrance, but sent a delegation to the gate to try to convince NLA members not to attend the meeting.
By 11am, we knew the NLA meeting was in progress and was going according to schedule. It was then that we held a hurried meeting to discuss the pros and cons of climbing over the fence into the parliament grounds and running up to the second-floor entrance to the meeting room, to try to gain entrance to the lobby area outside the meeting room. We decided that this was the only option to get attention to our cause. Ten wooden ladders were used, and around 30 of us managed to get into the lobby area, while another 60-70 demonstrated just outside the meeting room building. In the lobby area, we all sat down peacefully among throngs of reporters, giving interviews and responding to negotiators. We dispersed after we learned that the NLA meeting had been ended for the day.
Was our protest really non-violent? There were a few minor scuffles between demonstrators and officials who tried to stop them entering the grounds and the lobby area. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. I firmly believe, however, that no one was injured.
Were we justified in what we did? In my view, yes. We used as peaceful means as possible to try to prevent an illegitimate legislature from passing laws that violated basic rights and freedoms just before the election of a legitimate parliament.
For myself, I would not use such methods against an elected parliament.
To be honest, I don't think any of us spent much time considering the legal consequences. Now we know that serious charges against us are being considered.
Today, we are organising our next demonstration to halt NLA consideration of the eight bills. We will be surrounding parliament with a human chain. We will be strict about non-violence. Perhaps, if you are Thai, you might like to join us?
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: email@example.com
First Published in Bangkok Post