The first day of the joint parliamentary session turned out to be disappointing as politicians failed to focus on the objective of political reform. The joint session was urgently called to provide a forum in which political issues could be discussed and resolved, in a venue where they should be discussed and resolved: Parliament. But as of late afternoon yesterday, politicians had spent time making the same old allegations against each other we've all heard before. Several MPs, especially from opposition parties, took turns to claim protesters were shot dead by security officers during the crackdown on rioters over Songkran. The government side spent time defending the administration and demanding evidence to prove these claims.
The public has heard this before. People are, of course, curious about what happened in the clashes over Songkran. And the violence should be the subject of further investigation. However, the joint parliamentary session had another purpose. After the Songkran protests, the government and the opposition parties is obliged to sort out their political differences in the House, instead of letting the conflict fester and get blown out of proportion.
But as we listened to MPs discuss these issues until late into the afternoon yesterday, it became apparent that the joint parliamentary session was unlikely to kick-start a process of reconciliation for the country.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva earlier offered an olive branch by floating the idea of providing some politicians with an amnesty for political wrongdoing. His move was in response to calls from several quarters, including academics and business people, for politicians to sort out their differences through dialogue instead of mobilising mobs on the streets to voice their opinions. But the politicians instead reverted to discrediting each other without solid evidence. Opposition MPs defended the red shirts' leaders decision to sabotage the East Asian Summit, in which protesters stormed the venue in Pattaya, causing meeting to be cancelled and the government and foreign leaders to be evacuated.
These are, naturally, topics of public interest. But the statements about who provoked the incident in Pattaya were not new. The public has heard most of this before. The joint session is limited to two days, and legislators should stop bickering and focus on steps necessary to proceed with political reform.
Legislators must prove their leadership qualities by demonstrating to the public that political differences can be resolved through dialogue. They are supposed to be concentrating on the contentious issue of political reform and constitutional amendment. But so far we haven't heard anything about this.
It was quite obvious that, as of press time, the joint parliamentary session was unlikely to calm the political situation, albeit in the short term, in spite of earlier expectations.
During normal times, the public might not be bothered if House sessions end without producing any constructive benefits for society. But given the current fragile political environment, and economic recession, the public expects more from MPs.
If politicians fail to find a solution in a proper manner, the consequences could be very worrying. Runaway red-shirt leader Jakrapob Penkair has already warned that the red shirts would continue a clandestine campaign against the Abhisit government. Speaking to the BBC from his hideout after the break-up of the red-shirt protests on April 14, Jakrapob said the movement would use different tactics to confront the government, including possible armed attacks. "I believe the room for unarmed and non-violent means to resolve Thailand's problem is getting smaller every day," he was quoted as telling the BBC.
Speaking by phone from the undisclosed location, he told the BBC their struggle to bring down the current government would carry on, but that the movement would no longer rely on conventional forms of protest. "The state of emergency is a big help. It puts people underground," Jakrapob said.
In fact, deadly tactics aimed at instigating violence have already started, with the assassination attempt on People's Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul last Friday. This incident raises the spectre of increased violence.
If such violence continues, it could be very unfortunate for the country. We hope that the joint House session - scheduled to conclude today - does not end in complete failure. Otherwise, Thailand will sink again, as perhaps desired by those with malicious intent to plunge the nation into anarchy once again.