Published on December 13, 2007
The junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) cancelled its afternoon sitting yesterday after several score of protesters stormed legislature grounds and squatted in front of the Parliament.
The breakaway mob from a group of about a thousand demonstrators chanted demands for the NLA to stop passing dictatorial laws detrimental to society and to resign.
They insisted the NLA must cease its legislative function now because the general election will take place in less than two weeks and a new parliament will soon be formed.
NLA chairman Meechai Ruchuphan insisted the assembly would continue its duties and refused to yield to any of the protesters' demands, creating a deadlock for further showdowns in the coming days. The protesters, an alliance of NGO activists, the rural poor and state enterprise union members led by former senator Jon Ungpakorn, chairman of the NGO-Coordinating Committee for Development (NGO-Cord), declared partial victory shortly before 2pm in front of Parliament.
"I think we made history by storming the Parliament ... but the NLA is a shameless assembly which insists it will carry on considering bills. Although they have not been elected by anyone. They serve a dictatorial regime that lacks the democratic spirit and insist they will continue to meet," Jon said.
"This fight is over for now, but the real fight will only be so when the NLA permanently shuts itself down."
The alliance listed what it described as "dangerous bills" expected to be passed by the NLA. They include the Internal Security Bill (ISB), which the alliance argues will violate citizens' rights and freedom; the Privatisation Bill which will lead to further privatisation of state enterprises; the Radio and Television Activities Bill which will guarantee a monopoly of radio and television owned by the state and the military; the Water Bill which will lead to the nationalisation of water resources from rural villagers; and the University Privatisation Bill for Chulalongkorn and Chiang Mai Universities and more.
An NLA member who asked not to be named but was formerly a key member of the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra People's Alliance for Democracy, told The Nation the odds were against the protesters. "When the NLA votes, all bills will be passed because they have set the stage for it all already," he said.
Others, like NLA member Kirti Bunchua, said they had been appointed by the King.
"How can they usurp the authority of the King who declared this assembly open? We're merely acting according to the law, and the country needs laws." Another NLA member, Suraphol Nitikraipot, rector of Thammasat University, said: "If they say we're illegitimate, they should have said it from the very beginning. But let me ask how this coming election is made possible?
"We passed the election law and society needs legislators. They shouldn't oppose us because they simply didn't like some bills," said Suraphol, in reference to some NGOs leaders and activists who were co-operative when the NLA was appointed.
Many of these people are today on the other side of the fence. NLA member Surichai Wungaew resigned effectively yesterday and although he made no mention about the legitimacy of the NLA, he stated in his resignation letter it was no longer appropriate for the NLA to be passing bills with the election just days away. Other NLA members from civil society like Gothom Arya, Tuanjai Deetej and Wallop Tangkananurak insisted they would not resign as there was still plenty they could do in their current capacities.
Somkiat Tangkitvanich, a member of a special committee that drafted at least three bills, said he thought the Internal Security Bill was highly problematic, but insisted not all bills were dangerous.
He urged the alliance to do its homework better and not make premature and negative assessments of every bill. He said it was too late for the NLA's opponents to claim it lacked legitimacy. "Over all, I think the accusations of the group make sense. The NLA has screwed up many bills. But I'm not sure about their specific complaints," he said.