BANGKOK - All efforts to achieve national reconciliation will fail as long as the red shirts are not treated fairly and political rivals are not given a chance to iron out their differences, a red-shirt leader said at a public hearing in Udon Thani province over the weekend.
"How can we reconcile when the red shirts are summoned to 'attitude adjustment' sessions every time we express our political opinions, while the yellow shirts can give politically related interviews freely?" hardline red-shirt leader Kwanchai Praipana said.
He was airing his frustration over the violation of his right to free speech to Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) chairman Dr Borwornsak Uwanno in an informal chat over lunch.
"The military should be neutral and not publicly paint the red shirts as villains. People should stop attacking Pheu Thai and defaming or ridiculing Yingluck Shinawatra, because the more they do that, the more sympathy we will have for her. If this continues, reconciliation will not materialise," he said.
He also called on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to bring both political sides together at the negotiating table to settle their differences and encourage them to respect each other.
Kwanchai said Borwornsak did not reject his proposal, but also did not agree to help coordinate a meeting of political groups.
Borwornsak chaired a public hearing organised by the CDC and the National Reform Council in Udon Thani province - a red-shirt stronghold - over the weekend. This event attracted more public and media attention than similar hearings on the junta-ordered constitution in other provinces.
Looking for solutions
Some 160 political activists were chosen to attend the hearing along with some 40 representatives from religious groups, civil servants and local leaders. They had come together to help find solutions to the country's decades of political wrangling and deep-rooted conflicts.
Attendees were asked to present their proposals anonymously on national reconciliation and were promised that each suggestion would be taken into consideration.
Village headman Nattayot Phachuang, who is also a red-shirt leader in Udon Thani, said red-shirt supporters were generally not interested in a referendum on the new charger because they believed the CDC had already made its own assumptions and judgements.
"We don't think our proposals will be adopted or our problems solved, but we were satisfied when Borwornsak said the CDC would accept proposals from us," he said.
Thamrongsak Ngoyputhorn, a village headman from Sakhon Nakhon province, said a new parliamentary election system was required, adding that the existing one was a failure. He said that in the past MPs would visit their constituents after being elected, but more recently they disappeared after winning.
"Nobody comes back to take up our complaints and problems," he said.
Attendee Sukanya Kena-uppara said reviving local culture would help create harmony and cut down on political conflicts.
"Ill feelings among people from different political colours has subsided with time. People in the villages have stopped talking about politics, and are instead living in peace and helping one another," she said.