'We Walk' ends trek with election call

'We Walk' ends trek with election call

Activists converge in downtown Khon Kaen

Members of the People Go Network shout slogans and hold a banner with the message 'The People = Democracy' in front of Democracy Monument in Khon Kaen's Muang district after they completed a 450km walk yesterday. The 'We Walk' campaign, which started on Jan 20, was mobilised to raise awareness of key social and political issues the group said are being neglected by the government. PATIPAT JANTHONG
Members of the People Go Network shout slogans and hold a banner with the message 'The People = Democracy' in front of Democracy Monument in Khon Kaen's Muang district after they completed a 450km walk yesterday. The 'We Walk' campaign, which started on Jan 20, was mobilised to raise awareness of key social and political issues the group said are being neglected by the government. PATIPAT JANTHONG

KHON KAEN: A network of social and political activists, who completed their month-long walk from Thammasat University's Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani to this northeastern province yesterday, have urged the regime to hold the general election as quickly as possible.

The so-called "People Go Network" set off on a 450km march on Jan 20. The activity encouraged people to share their opinions on health insurance, food security, human and community rights, and public participation in the execution of state policies.

On the final day of the "We Walk" campaign in Khon Kaen, some 200 people divided into four groups to represent the four issues, which have come to the fore because government policy in these areas has been viewed as controversial.

They marched along four routes before converging at Democracy Monument in the downtown area of Khon Kaen's central Muang district at 11.20am.

Sangsiri Trimakka, a coordinator of the People's Health Systems Movement, a group under the People Go Network, described the march as an embodiment of the public's right to express their views and publicise the difficulties they face.

"At the end of the day, efforts must be made to keep the election on track as quickly as possible," said Ms Sangsiri. The election will lead to legal amendments that will give people a greater say in how society is run, under a more democratic climate, she added.

Under an elected government, parts of the charter that are seen as flawed could also be amended for the better, she noted.

According to Ms Sangsiri, the network's campaign was organised because members of the civic sector have few opportunities to make their voices heard.

The network said it first tried to go through official channels, such as meeting with officials from state agencies and lodging complaints at its Damrongtham centres, but to little avail.

Members said instead of talking with state authorities they now preferred to deal with people directly through the walk campaign, she noted.

Referring to welfare and health insurance issues, Ms Sangsiri said the group was concerned about the government's move to amend the law on universal healthcare coverage, which she said could force subscribers to foot part of their medical bills.

"The amendment should be suspended for now and the process should be kickstarted when democracy is restored after the election," Ms Sangsiri said.

The issue should not be rushed as healthcare is a key policy that must be carefully reviewed, she added.

On food security and alternative farming practices, the activist said the government is gearing up efforts to amend the Plant Varieties Protection Act to make it in line with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention.

She said this would result in farmers having to rely on seeds purchased from companies to grow their crops.

This is a pressing concern for many farmers, she said.

Turning to environmental issues, she said the amendment being made to the National Promotional and Reserved Environment Act must help enhance the standard of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).

But the National Legislative Assembly did the opposite by trying to make sure the EIA process could be undertaken quickly and hastily.

Nattawut Uppa, another coordinator of the network, said the walk campaign was symbolic and aimed at highlighting the public's loss of faith in central authorities to address their grievances.

Network members have spoken positively about communicating directly with the public and forging a collective effort to tackle the problems they face.

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