Government ready for dialogue if rules for peaceful assembly are respected
On 18 March 2010, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reiterated his readiness to engage in dialogue with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) on the basis that all sides respect the rules for peace demonstration.
Speaking in a television interview, Prime Minister Abhisit expressed his appreciation to all parties concerned – both officials and demonstrators – for contributing to the overall peaceful situation. He also thanked the demonstrators for agreeing to open up some space for the organization of the annual Red Cross Fair at the Royal Plaza, which will start on 30 March, adding that the authorities have also asked for information as to where the demonstrators would hold their rallies on 20 March, in order to be able to provide appropriate advice to the public.
Recalling his meeting with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prime Minister Abhisit reiterated the two major issues discussed. Firstly, the NHRC had proposed rules for peaceful assembly. On his part, the Prime Minister reaffirmed the Government’s position of not to use force against demonstrators and that the law would be enforced carefully without creating any condition that could escalate the situation. He also responded to the demonstrators’ concern, saying that the Emergency Decree would not be used unless absolutely necessary. As for the demonstrators, they must conduct their rallies peacefully without infringing upon other people’s rights through such acts as blockading of official buildings and private residences.
Regarding dialogue, the Prime Minister reiterated that he has no problem and is willing to engage in dialogue with protest leaders – with the NHRC being a facilitator, but that such dialogue must be held in accordance with the afore-mentioned rules for peaceful assembly. In this context, the Prime Minister added that despite the overall peaceful situation, there remain concerns about certain acts which could incite hatred and lead to disturbances. These include the continued verbal threats to hunt down certain persons or blockade certain locations, and the use of certain materials proven to be fabricated or divisive expressions during rally speeches. In addition, considering former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s rejection of the neutrality of the NHRC, it remained to be seen how protest leaders would decide.
On the demonstrators’ demand for the dissolution of the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister stressed that he never dismissed this as an option, but if it is to be pursued, it must really help resolve the problem. In his view, the conditions that would make the dissolution of the House a solution – namely, a genuinely peaceful environment for political campaigning and agreed election rules – do not yet exist. Certain groups are still conducting activities which have made some areas risky for political parties to campaign freely, while the same election rules – under which one political party was dissolved for election fraud and which has already been rejected by certain parties – would apply should elections be called at this time, making it doubtful if their outcome would be accepted. In addition, listening to protest leaders’ speeches, it is uncertain if the dissolution of the House is their only and actual demand. However, as the demonstrators believe that this would be a solution, the Prime Minister suggested that both sides talk, with the NHRC acting as a facilitator. He also added that given the diversity of views among the demonstrators as well as the public, any dialogue must focus on the interest of the public.
On the alleged "double standards" in the handling of cases against the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the UDD, Prime Minister Abhisit observed that “double standards” could be said to exist where similar acts are treated differently, not simply where two groups are treated differently. He affirmed that all cases which have happened over the few years, and there are many, have proceeded under the same standard. But as these cases are different in terms of complexity, some have progressed more quickly than others. For instance, with regard to the PAD, the case involving its illegal entry into the offices of TV Channel 11 has been submitted for prosecution, while more complicated cases such as its occupation of Government House or Suvarnabhumi International Airport remain under investigation because of the large number of witnesses to be questioned. The Prime Minister has asked that these cases be expedited but the investigation also has to be thorough. As for the UDD, some cases also remain under investigation, such as the attack against the Prime Minister’s car at the Ministry of Interior in April 2009. In sum, much depends on from which perspective one looks at these cases. On its part, the Government attaches importance to speed and fairness but it has never interfered in the work of the police, the Attorney-General’s Office or the Court.
As for the "Aristocrats versus Commoners" rhetoric, Prime Minister Abhisit said that such a class system no longer exist in today’s Thailand as all Thais are equal under the Constitution. Such rhetoric, therefore, should not be used as another condition to incite hatred and division. Be that as it may, the Prime Minister acknowledged that social disparity does exist in reality and despite having equal rights, not every one has equal opportunities, and it is the duty of every government to address this problem. Like other governments, the present Government has also prioritised the promotion of equality and opportunity for those most disadvantaged by introducing such policies as 15 years of free education, setting up of nurseries in factories and sustenance allowances for the elderly. It has also continued some policies of previous administrations proven to be beneficial to the public, and added other initiatives such as those to address the problem of informal debt. Noting that the disparity problem is a structural issue, the Prime Minister said that the Government would discuss the proposal for land and property taxes at the next Cabinet meeting, which would help address the existing disparity. Nevertheless, this problem cannot be resolved in a short period of time, and would remain even if the House of Representatives were to be dissolved.
Prime Minister Abhisit said that his Government would continue to carry out its responsibilities as normal. Meanwhile, the system of check and balance through the parliamentary process continues to function with the opposition soon to file a no-confidence motion against the Government in the House of Representatives.
Finally, the Prime Minister thanked the Thai public for their patience and restraint amidst the on-going political situation. He affirmed that in making any political decision, he would do on the basis of long-term public interest, noting he is confident that the country would be able to pass through this difficult period.
19 March 2010 (information provided by the Department of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand)