House convenes to solve crisis
Chuan urges unity to settle protest unrest
House Speaker Chuan Leekpai has called on MPs and senators to make a concerted effort to find a solution to the political conflict during the two-day special parliamentary session starting on Monday.
Mr Chuan also warned politicians not to attempt to exploit parliament in a way that would exacerbate the situation.
The meeting, being held on Monday and Tuesday, has been convened under Section 165 of the constitution, which says the government can request a joint House-Senate sitting for a general debate without a vote to listen to members' opinions on issues of importance.
The special session is taking place before parliamentarians were officially due to return on Nov 1.
Mr Chuan also said some MPs had disagreed with the opening of the special session, arguing rival politicians would seize the chance to point the finger of blame rather than work together for the good of the nation.
"I told the MPs they must try to prevent that by cooperating and presenting useful ideas. This is not a censure debate,'' he warned.
Commenting on security arrangements in case anti-government demonstrators turn up at parliament while the House is in session, Mr Chuan said he was confident the situation would not become violent and reinforcements from the police force or military would not be needed.
Atthakorn Sirilatthayakorn, a list MP for the ruling Palang Pacharath Party (PPRP) and a government whip, said coalition parties have been instructed to make sure enough MPs attend the meeting to make up a quorum.
Monday's session is scheduled to start at 9.30am and end at 10pm, taking 12 hours and 30 minutes, and it will be held openly, not behind closed doors, Mr Atthakorn said.
MPs will be allowed to speak and offer the government suggestions on how to tackle the problems, he said, adding the government and the PPRP have prepared information to present to the meeting.
Wirat Ratanaset, a chief government whip, allayed concerns the debate would touch upon on sensitive topics, particularly the monarchy, saying that parliamentarians are mature enough to do their job constructively without breaking the law.
"However, if any of them are careless when they speak about those sensitive issues during the session, they will be doing so at their own risk and must take responsibility as they will not be afforded the protection of parliamentary immunity," Mr Virat said.
Cholnan Srikaew, a deputy leader of the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, said he held out no hope the debate would help end the conflict as the cabinet, which has proposed the motion seeking to open the special session, had already blamed the protesters for causing the problem. That would not help anything move forward.
"The motion is like an attempt to whitewash [the government's actions]. Of the total 23 hours of debate, the opposition parties get only eight hours while cabinet ministers are given five hours, the Senate gets five hours, and parties of the coalition camp get five hours. This means 15 hours versus eight hours," Dr Cholnan said.
Pheu Thai secretary-general Prasert Jantararuangtong said party MPs will abide by parliamentary meeting regulations and will be careful not to mention issues relating to the monarchy during the debate.
Thousands of protesters return to Ratchaprasong intersection on Sunday to press for the ouster of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha after he refused to step down before their Saturday deadline. | Jetjaras Na Ranong
Meanwhile, a majority of people remain worried by the anti-government protests by the Khana Ratsadorn (People's Group), saying they fear possible interference by third parties may inflame the situation, according to a survey by the National Institute of Development Administration, or Nida Poll.
The poll was conducted on Oct 19-20 among 1,336 people aged 18 and over of various levels of education and occupations throughout the country about the protests which began on Oct 14.
To the question of whether they thought the protests could cause divisions and violence in society, 58.6% said "yes", with 34.2% saying they feared there would be violent clashes between groups with opposing views, while 24.2% worried outside interference by third parties as some members of the People's Group appeared to be seasoned radicals.
Most people also want the government to negotiate with the protesters as soon as possible, according to a separate survey by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University carried on Oct 19-22 among 5,738 respondents.