Published on December 18, 2007
Last Wednesday, about 1,000 protesters surrounded Parliament and dozens eventually climbed over the building's fence in order to stage a more dramatic protest, leading to the cancellation of the NLA session that afternoon. Protesters demanded an end to the NLA's controversial passing of laws, many of which protesters deem anti-democratic and detrimental to civil rights, such as the draconian Internal Security Bill and others.
The problem, which perhaps led to Samak's allegation, is that roughly half of the protest leaders were either part of the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which tacitly endorsed last year's military coup, or were active in working with the NLA to try to draft some bills in the first few months of the controversial assembly's existence.
These protest leaders - comprising NGO activists, consumer-rights campaigners, opponents of free-trade agreements, state-enterprise unionists, academics, students and rural villagers - may be genuinely against the NLA now, but some of them simply jumped from point A to point C.
Point A was when they tacitly accepted the junta and even worked with it on numerous post-coup activities, especially those of the NLA and the junta-sponsored constitution-drafting process. They have now jumped to point C and found themselves critical of the junta's agenda, which they insist is undermining human rights, democracy, state enterprises, state-funded universities and water resources, as well as perpetuating the military's control over broadcast media and more, all through bills the house is hastily trying to pass while the nation is distracted by the election campaign.
But most never passed point B - the point of self-reflection, publicly admitting why they accepted the junta, and even apologising for it, and explaining what lessons they learned. Most members of this group skipped point B, with the exception of those like media campaigner Supinya Klangnarong, who admitted early on in the post-coup era that she had made a mistake by joining PAD, which eventually accepted - some might argue invited - the coup as a legitimate means of deposing Thaksin.
The majority of that group of protest leaders simply jumped from being pro-coup to anti-junta, and this may help explain Samak's suspicions and conspiracy theory.
Meanwhile, the only NLA member from the so-called "civil-society" wing who has decided to resign due to the increasingly controversial role of the assembly has been Chulalongkorn University sociologist Surichai Wankaew.
Surichai tendered his resignation with effect from December 12, the day the protesters besieged the parliament.
In his resignation letter, Surichai reportedly stated that since the election was to take place within days, he felt it was not proper for the NLA to keep on reading and passing more bills, and that that task should be left to the new Parliament.
Nothing was mentioned by Surichai, who is also a senior and key member of the Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD), about whether he thought the NLA was legitimate to begin with. Nor did he express any sense of contrition for having accepted his job at the NLA and thus, intentionally or not, having served as a lubricant for the military regime by lending his name to enhance the NLA's veneer of legitimacy. Other scholars like Thammasat University political scientist Chaiwat Satha-Anand deserve to be praised for publicly refusing to have anything to do with the military regime right from the coup.
Former Poll Watch director Gothom Arya and others like him who refused to resign and continued to find it expedient to work with the regime are causing lots more damage than good and setting a bad example. In effect, their presence in the NLA makes future coups increasingly possible if not plausible because generals wanting to stage a coup in future can feel assured that there will always exist a pool of so-called "pro-democracy" and human-rights activists eager to work for them.
Surichai's failure to apologise to the public for the year he spent at the NLA, or even to explain to the public whether he had learned any lessons from his role, is disappointing. Not long after Surichai accepted the military appointment, he was confronted by a Filipino colleague and activist who asked him why he had decided to join what many regard as a rubber-stamp parliament for the junta. Apparently failing to engage Surichai in a rational discussion, the Filipino activist later told this writer that Surichai allegedly replied by saying the matter was a domestic affair and so excluded his foreign peer from the right to demand an answer from him.
On the day of the invasion of Parliament, the NLA, belatedly condemned by protesters as "illegitimate and shameless" continued to insulate itself from any sense of reason and integrity. This was best illustrated by the fact that when Surichai's resignation was announced, no reason was given for it. Apparently no reason is needed for these people to finish their job, which is believed by a growing number of people to be merely pushing the agenda of the junta by ensuring that the military will be powerful enough to continue to breathe down the necks of future elected governments through various draconian pro-military bills that will soon be enacted into law.
As one NLA member, formerly with the PAD, who still hasn't resigned and will not, told this writer last week: "When the NLA votes, all bills will be passed because they have set the stage for it all already."