Sixty prominent academics, intellectuals and activists across the political divide came together for the first time yesterday to create a network against violence or military coup, as well as to support fair elections and reform.
Their press conference yesterday at Thammasat University comes just a couple of days before the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) shuts Bangkok down on Monday and amid rampant speculation about an impending military putsch.
The new group, calling itself the “Network of Two Yes-es and Two Nos”, said they feared that the risk of widespread violence was real and hoped that Thais on both sides would learn how to co-exist peacefully.
Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), who has been highly critical of many policies of the current Yingluck Shinawatra administration, said that both sides should acknowledge the need to be empathetic.
“There’s a need to understand those on the opposite side, to understand the discontent of the red shirts and for thered shirts to understand Bangkokians and others who have come out to protest and are worried about the majority voice taking matters into their own hands,” he said.
Seksan Prasertkul, a noted political scientist and charismatic former student leader and ex-communist rebel who is usually reclusive, was also at the table expressing concern. He too urged everybody to accept the reality of Thailand as a pluralistic society.
“This society has developed to a point where there exists diversity in terms of interests and thinking,” he said, adding that there a single group cannot claim to be speaking on behalf of all Thais, because Thai society was no longer homogenous. He also warned that there were some who wished for a military coup as well.
“We can’t use means outside the democratic framework because it will not bring about a consensus. Even if it is done out of good intentions, what is gained won’t be worth the loss,” he warned, adding that sustainable change was needed and that Thais would have to rely on reasoning and wisdom to go through the immediate future without bloodshed.
The group also said that a coup “would be the starting point of violence between the coup makers, the people and among the [different groups of] people”.
At the same time, it called for the caretaker government to respect people’s right to peaceful assembly and only use force to maintain law and order when necessary and ensure it is in accordance with international standards.
Chaiwat Satha-Anand, Thammasat University political scientist and expert on non-violence, urged Thais not to give up on peaceful means to resolve the current cri?sis.
The network also said it supports the election, adding that it is “a political right of all Thais which no person or group can violate”.
The group also called for the creation of a Civic Reform Forum in order to enable a truly open reform process that’s not dominated by any one party. The network said it would try and present more detailed proposals in subsequent meetings.
Thammasat University political scientist Kasian Tejapira also called on PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban to stop blowing his whistle and start listening to others. He urged Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha to stop talking about a coup and asked Yingluck and her fugitive older brother Thaksin to pay heed to others, especially those who think differently.
A source from the network, who asked not to be named, said the group had assigned members to work on a national reform proposal along five aspects and release it at a forum on January 26. For instance, the TDRI has been tasked to come up with an anti-corruption proposal, while the Assembly for the Defence of Democracy has been told to look into promoting direct democracy.
The forum will be held at a university in Bangkok, but the exact venue is yet to be announced.
The source said that even though the network had declared they disagreed with the PDRC’s methods, most members agree that the February 2 election will not resolve Thailand’s division. However, they did not mention the issue in order to avoid confusion.
‘Network of 2 Yes-es and 2 Nos’
Who they are
The ‘Network of Two Yes-es and Two Nos’ is made up of prominent academics, intellectuals and activists from both sides of the political divide. The network was launched yesterday.
There are 60 people listed. Those critical of the government include Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) president Somkiat Tangkitvanich, former TDRI head and noted economist Ammar Siamwalla, and consumer rights activist Saree Aongsomwang. On the pro-government side are noted historian Nidhi Eoseewong and Red Sunday group leader Sombat Boonngam-anong. Well-known Buddhist monk Phra Paisal Visalo and former student leader Seksan Prasertkul are also members of the network.
No violence by all sides and the government must only use force to maintain law and order if necessary and use it in accordance with international standards.
No military coup; the network said a coup would only deepen the conflict and lead to more violence and bloodshed.
Yes to an election; they say electoral right is an inviolable political right.
Yes to national reform; but the process must be all inclusive, participatory and legitimate, involving all parties in dialogue.
First published: The Nation, January 11, 2014