House votes to set up panel to hear students' views

House votes to set up panel to hear students' views

The House of Representatives has voted to set up a House panel to hear students’ concerns about the rewrite of the constitution but the Opposition will not join it.

House speaker Chuan Leekpai on Thursday chaired a meeting to consider the urgent motion to hear the views of university and school students.

Last Saturday, thousands of people, mostly young ones led by a group called Free Youth, gathered near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok to call for the dissolution of the House, a rewrite of the constitution and an end to intimidation at the hands of security officials.

The rally was defying a coronavirus ban on gatherings. Hundreds of police were despatched to maintain peace and order. The rally went ahead without an incident.

Speaking during the House meeting, Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rom said he wanted the government to view the demonstrations through the lens of humanity. "One of the three demands raised by student activists is a rewrite of the charter and it's necessary and justified," he said. 

The 2017 constitution was written by people with a combined age of over one thousand years without participation from students and the young generation, said the opposition MP.

"It's time we give the new generation room to breathe since the constitution has served as a political tool to secure the ruling power since 2014," he said.

However, Mr Rangsiman said the proposal to set up a House panel to hear students’ views is a ploy to buy time and temporarily appease them. 

Jiraporn Sinthuprai, a Pheu Thai MP for Roi Et, said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha should have responded positively to the demonstrators’ call for the rewrite of the constitution by sending a signal to the government MPs and senators.

"However, Gen Prayut remains indifferent even though he himself is a major obstacle in amending the charter," she said.

Move Forward Party MP Teeratchai Panthumas apologised to the students. "My generation has failed to build democracy and a future for them. With democracy only in name, the students are forced to take to the streets to make their voices heard."

Move Forward Party Leader Pita Limjaroenrat said people now viewed the government as a threat to their lives. The country has moved backward. The 2017 constitution was only a permit for the government to rule the country. And that permit did not come from an election.

He said his party wanted the government to scrap the emergency decree to open political space and stop violating people's rights and liberties.

"It must stop a cyberwar to instigate conflicts that divide society. Gen Prayut, who is standing in the way should give up and leave. And a new constitution must come from people," said the party leader.

He ended the speech by mentioning an "inconvenient truth".

"I'm not sure whether all Thais are ready for, or want to listen to, the voice of the new generation. I think it's time we stop pretending not to see what we don't want to see. We have to admit that in addition to the three demands, quite a few people mentioned an "inconvenient truth" in the Thai society. Whether we like it or not, it's time we admit this inconvenient truth is a sentiment of a time, a product of the problems we all have played a part in creating and leaving to posterity.

"If we are ready to listen to their voice, I beg you to be open-minded and adjust our views so we can find a solution together. But if we're not ready, all we see is that these people are a threat to national security and the monarchy. If that happens, the country will have no way out, no future, because we take part in killing the future with our own hands."  

The House then voted 260-178 to set up a House panel to hear demonstrators’ views. Two abstained.

Students across the countries gathered in at least six provinces — Khon Kaen, Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya, Rayong, Sakon Nakhon and Pattani — on Thursday evening to carry on with the three demands. Police and education administrators reportedly tried to stop them by writing down their names and pressuring their parents.

More rallies are planned through next week. For Friday, three are planned in Bangkok and more in Udon Thani, Krabi, Phatthalung, Nakhon Ratchasima and Lamphun. All were held under the common theme of "End it in our generation".

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