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Where are the promised public hearings on reconciliation?

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It looks as if we were all duped about the promised public hearings on reconciliation. The reconciliation bill was instead rushed to the parliament and is set to be debated on the same time that many world leaders are in Bangkok for the World Economic Forum.

I wonder whether Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit still remembers that promise he made a month or so ago about the reconciliation bill proposed by former coup maker General Sonthi Boonyaratklin’s panel, a plan that was selectively gleaned from the report of the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI).

At the time, Mr Yongyuth said there wouldbe at least one public hearing in each region throughout the country, plus in Bangkok, to allow all stakeholders to voice their opinions on the reconciliation plan. The KPI, he said, may also be invited to join the hearing process, afterwhich a report on the hearings would be submitted to the parliament within 60 days, or a bit later.

The apparent answer is “no”. And do most of use even remember what he said? The answer is, sadly, probably another “no”. Have we been duped about the public hearings?

So a big thankyou to Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva who pointed out this issue of public hearings on the reconciliation plan the other day. Otherwise we would have blithely allowed ourselves to be treated like fools.

Mr Abhisit said that all the talk about public hearings was just lies when he asked about the 400 million baht budget supposedly allocated by the government for the purpose of staging the public hearings

Mr Yongyuth made the promise in April, and I have still not seen or heard of a public hearing of that sort ever being held in Bangkok, or in the Northeast, the North, the Central or the Eastern regions. But then out of the blue, a reconciliation bill was submitted to the parliament last week by General Sonthi  Boonyaratglin, leader of the small Matubhum Party.

The bill was accepted and is now expected to be debated in the House on Thursday, having initially been expected to be put on the table even quicker, on Wednesday.

Why the hurry? It seems there might be a communication problem, or total lack of communication, between House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranan and the government about the debate on the national reconciliation bill, because it coincides with the start of the much heralded World Economic Forum in Bangkok.

Deputy Prime Minister Kittirat Na-Ranong might feel uneasy about the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy’s planned protest rally on Wednesday, first at the Royal Plaza and then outside the parliament. He reminded the protesters to be aware of the significance of the international meeting. But then he also said it is quite normal for people to stage a protest whenever there is an important international meeting going on.

As host of the World Economic Forum, Mr Kittirat has the right to feel uncomfortable, given the PAD’s track record of street protests. But, this time around, he appears to have vented his frustration on the wrong party. The PAD planned its protest on Wednesday not because there is an international forum but because the parliament or, to be more specific, the Pheu Thai Party, initially chose that day to debate the national reconciliation bill.

The deputy prime minister should have warned House Speaker Somsak of the significance of the international forum and told him to postpone the debate until next week or until the parliament has received a report on the promised public hearings on reconciliation.

It should be a hectic day on Wednesday for the police as they have to ensure security for all the VIP delegates attending the WEF meeting and also to ensure order at the Royal Plaza and at the parliament, where the yellow-shirt protesters are to rally in what PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul has described as his “final battle”.

As far as General Sonthi’s reconciliation bill is concerned, there appears to be no smooth sailing because the hard-core red-shirts are against an important part of the bill -- namely, paragraph 2 of Section 2 which seeks to pardon all government officials from then prime minister Abhisit down who were involved in the crackdown on red-shirt protesters during their protest in April-May 2010. They want the entire paragraph deleted.

To appease these hardline red-shirts, a group of red-shirt Pheu Thai MPs led by Deputy Agriculture Minister Nattawut Saikuar has submitted their own version of the reconciliation bill to the parliament. So far, three reconciliation bills, including that proposed by General Sonthi, have been received by the parliament and they are all to be debated together, with General Sonthi’s bill to be treated as the principal document.

The entire reconciliation plan may collapse if paragraph 2 of Section 2 of General Sonthi’s bill is to be deleted as demanded by the red-shirts. There will be no reconciliation if red-shirt protesters and fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are the only people to benefit from the bill.

Unless the red-shirt MPs are told to back down on their hardline stance. The more logical and reasonable alternative is to postpone the debate and to hold the promised public hearings. In which case Thaksin may have to wait a bit longer for his homecoming, but there would also then be no cause for the PAD to stage its protest.

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Guest Thursday, 17 April 2014

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