Thai parties not averse to poll delay

Thai parties not averse to poll delay

Democrats, Pheu Thai express concern, want constitution to be democratic

Politicians from the country's two largest political parties would not object to a delay in holding the next general election provided the new constitution is democratic, according to the participants of a junta-organised meeting yesterday.

Sources said the politicians were more concerned about the content of the constitution.

Some observers said yesterday's meeting, which was supposed to focus on reform and reconciliation, appeared instead to be a stamp of approval for a National Council for Peace and Order's (NPCO) plan to stay in power longer than its roadmap.

Worachai Hema, a red-shirt leader who is a politician of the Pheu Thai Party, said that representatives from the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties agreed that it was acceptable to them if the next general election were delayed but that the new constitution must be democratic.

"If the draft constitution is left unchanged, the political conflict will never end," he said, adding that politicians from both parties wanted the new charter to address the issues of political conflict, reconciliation and democracy. He called for a public referendum on the constitution.

Jatuporn Promphan, leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), told reporters when arriving at the meeting's venue, the Army Club, that the gathering was meant to pave the way for reform.

It was organised by the NCPO's Reconciliation Centre and featured, among others, leading politicians, political activists and media figures.

Participant Phayaw Akkahad, whose daughter was killed in the 2010 political unrest, described the meeting as a move to "seek reconciliation between politicians and the NCPO".

"I felt that they seemed to talk about reconciliation between politicians and the NCPO. They almost didn't talk about the people," she said.

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha defended the junta's sudden invitation to the meeting of some 40 people, which included red-shirt leaders and academics, to the "reconciliation talk".

He said it was not a repeat of the summons issued right after the coup last May, when many people were detained for up to a week to have their attitudes "adjusted".

Some of those invited in person by military officers who visited their homes feared going to yesterday's meeting and refused to attend while one attendee prepared his clothes in case he was detained by the military.

However, they all were allowed to leave after the morning session and have lunch at the Army Club, with no one having to sign any "agreement" with the NCPO.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was among those in attendance. He left without talking to reporters.

Siam University law lecturer Ekachai Chainuvati said the invitees were treated politely and allowed to speak and leave freely.

The meeting was chaired by the commander of the First Region Army Region Lt-General Kampanat Ruddit, who is also director of the Reconciliation Centre.

Ekachai said no one was asked to sign an agreement with the NCPO restricting their civic rights, unlike the hundreds summoned by the junta after the coup. "The outcome was that it was a military-style reconciliation talks," said Ekachai, adding however that some people were afraid after military officers visited them in person to extend the invitation at night without prior notice.

Staging the meeting at the same place where many people were detained last year was also a cause for concern, Ekachai said.

The law lecturer said Kampanat responded by arranging a meeting room that would not bring back unpleasant old memories.

Ekachai said the absence of leaders from the People's Democratic Reform Committee was noted.

Another invitee, red-shirt UDD co-leader Nuttawut Saikuar, said reconciliation could only be achieved when there was equality among people and a balance of power among many groups.

Former deputy premier Pongthep Thepkanchana, a member of the Pheu Thai Party, was also there.

Human rights lawyer Anon Nampa was among those who did not attend. He said he was busy defending a client in Chiang Mai.

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