In a bid to facilitate political reforms, seven private-sector organisations invited the red-shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) for discussions after their meeting this week with Suthep Thaugsuban, secretary-general of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
The seven organisations said there was an urgent need for a national reform plan, but at a press conference yesterday, they did not specify whether reforms should take place before or after next year's election on February 2.
"There are going to be other meetings because we cannot gather all information and propose it here at our first meeting," said Vichai Assarasakorn, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. "Today is more about options than solutions … we need to listen to all sides and find a way to work together with our differences. The most important thing to keep in mind is society as a whole.
"We have spoken to Khun Suthep and have gained a better understanding of what the PDRC has to offer. Now we want to hear what the UDD has to say about reform and what it has to offer. Once we have gathered enough information, we should be able to provide more guidelines on the reform process," Vichai said.
Four options were raised after the first meeting with the PDRC, dealing with the economy, the electoral system, inequality and corruption. These will be proposed at the other two forums to be hosted by the military today and with the government tomorrow.
The private organisations that offered to be "a stage for mediators" are the Thai Chamber of Commerce/Board of Trade; the Tourism Council of Thailand; the Thai Bankers' Association; the Federation of Thai Industries; the Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations; the Stock Exchange of Thailand; and the Thai Listed Companies Association.
Several economists have voiced their concerns about the impact the political impasse will have on the economy - saying continued conflict could hurt Thailand's economic recovery next year. With no positive news of economic recovery, foreign investors have been dumping Thai shares heavily to seek higher returns in the United States, where interest rates are expected to rise after tapering on quantitative easing. The SET Index lost 1.5 per cent this week, as month-to-date foreign net-sells hit Bt32.6 billion. FTI chairman Payungsak Chartsutipol said on the sidelines of the press conference that political conflict was the biggest risk to the economy and there was a chance that foreign investors could move their operations to other countries, primarily Malaysia. One of the biggest concerns of foreign investors was whether Thailand's election would take place as planned, he said.
Seeking to end the political conflict, the private-sector organisations, which say their members represent all business sectors, urged public ratification to end corruption, promote reconciliation, and pave the way for reforms in key areas of society. They believe reforms are necessary to lessen the current tensions and to ensure political stability in the future.
Social commitment, they said, could be sought now or after the election. This could be achieved if all parties put aside questions of how, when, or whether these reforms were lawful, and realise how necessary and urgent it was for Thailand to implement reforms.