Light at end of tunnel for unity panel?
At first glance, it seems the formation of the reconciliation committee has hit a snag as the idea is opposed by some opposition parties, and the anti-dictatorship movement. But there are signs that those opposed to it may get back to the negotiating table, signalling light at the end of the tunnel.
The Khana Ratsadon 2020 insisted they will hold a major rally at Democracy Monument tomorrow with their original demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, charter rewrite and monarchy reform. They don't have confidence in the panel as they see it as a government delaying tactic.
However, Pheu Thai, the leading opposition party, has adjusted its stance, from a firm "no" to a "probably" as it asked to see the committee's composition beforehand. The new stance followed reports that three former PMs -- Anand Panyarachun, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Abhisit Vejjajiva -- have accepted the invitation made by Parliament president Chuan Leekpai. The party has tried to pressure Prime Minister Prayut to commit to the panel's recommendations.
Mr Anand has recommended that the government listens to the pro-democracy movement as the conflict stems from political problems that arose after the 2014 coup. Mr Abhisit is known for his anti-military and charter rewrite stance since he led the Democrat Party into the 2019 election. With such a stance, he relinquished the party leadership and resigned as the party's MP when the Democrats joined the Palang Pracharath party-led coalition.
Gen Chavalit's stance, however, remains a puzzle. In a media interview two months ago he pledged support for Gen Prayut, but lately he proposed that power be returned to the King to appoint an ad hoc national government.
There is no consensus on the reconciliation committee, as negotiations are still going on and each party is trying to maximise its bargaining power. But the process will soon be wrapped up when Mr Chuan names the committee members. At the same time the charter rewrite process kicks off on Nov 17. Besides, the country's democratic mechanism which has been at a standstill for seven years is to resume, starting with local elections later this year, while the referendum bill is on its way to parliament.
From now on we should see a more open atmosphere in which people can freely express their views.
Without a doubt, certain parties have rejected the panel idea because of past failures of such committees that were formed to tackle colour-coded conflicts since 2005. There have been nearly 10 committees, at parliamentary and national levels, from the Abhisit, Yingluck (Shinawatra) and Prayut governments.
A major setback for this structure is the powers-that-be tend to ignore its recommendations. That explains why the formation of such a panel is seen as a delaying tactic.
Some key panels are the one set up by the Abhisit administration in 2010 after the crackdown on red-shirt demonstrators; and another one by Yingluck the following year, which was tasked with re-examining the recommendation by its predecessor. The Yingluck government eventually paid huge compensation to the victims. Each family of a deceased victim received 7.75 million baht.
During the coup era, a number of reconciliation panels were formed. Major recommendations included pardons to demonstrators from both sides and open forums for both sides to talk and explore justice measures. However, the Prayut regime refused to follow the recommendations for fear of the political impact. Instead, the regime used oppressive laws in controlling and intimidating its political opponents instead of fostering reconciliation.
Needless to say, this time the conflicts are much more difficult than in the past, given the demands for reform of the monarchy. But those concerned have to find the way out, while not ignoring the pro-democracy movement's demands.
Besides, the new panel is different from those of the past, as it is to be led by former prime ministers, not state officials. Since it is to be named by a parliament president, not the government, it could win trust and hope from the nation, even though it has no direct authority. It's believed that the panel will be able to pressure the government or other parties concerned to commit to its recommendations.
If it turns out that this panel cannot break the political deadlock, or it fails like previous ones, it could raise the question of whether neutral panels are useful. What else do we have to tackle conflicts? I think we can still avoid violent confrontation if those at the top of the power structure are open to the new generation and their demands, and can fine-tune points to agree on.
As we have no clue how the situation will turn out, some people think there might be a surprise on Dec 2 when the Constitution Court rules in the case against Gen Prayut and his unlawful stay at an army residence. If guilty, he may have to step down. Until then, don't blink even for a second!
Assistant news editor
Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.