Farmers, NGOs: Talks can solve crisis

Pressure groups including farmers, environmentalists, and non-governnment organisations have demanded the government and the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) negotiate to trade off reforms path and timeframe of election postponement.

Srisuwan Kuankhachorn, chair of the NGO Coordinating Committee, said the meeting of grassroot organisations and the NGOs has concluded that the two sides of the conflicts needed to talk to unlock the political dilemma.

"Both sides need to lower their conditions that make it more difficult to negotiate. First of all, the caretaker government must revoke the emergency decree as a goodwill gesture," said Mr Srisuwan, at a seminar on "Unlock Political Dilemma: Forwarding Thailand's Reform" on Thursday.

Secondly, the authorities have to quickly resolve the payment of the pledged rice farmers have sold out according to the government's policy, he said.

Thirdly, the government needs to realise that defying the grave concerns of the majority of the people who wanted to postpone the election to clear the air for the necessary reform would plunge the country to the brink.

Lastly, all the political parties had to listen up to the demands of the communities and the grassroots all over the country who have sought reduction of inequality and greater say of the locals on mega development projects, said the NGO-Cord chair.

Chinda Boonchan, chair of the Community Organisation Council, has suggested local administrative organisations were given greater power as the locals could exercise direct democracy in the smaller scale than at the national level.

Mr Chinda said rubber farmers in the south felt their say was silenced in the past decades, especially under the leadership of the Pheu-Thai-led government, as they neglected the needs of the local people but imposed as many as 20 mega infrastructure projects that had nothing to do with the ways of life of the southern people.

He suggested tangible steps out of the political crisis by mutual retreats of their demands.

"(PDRC leader) Suthep Thuagsuban needs to tell the people now what he and the PDRC would like to see A-Z and in what timeframe while the government needs to be more flexible in offering the new possible election if the rally being called off," said Mr Chinda.

Hannarong Yaowalert, chair of the Environment Protection NGO-Confederation, complained that those who preaching reforms in the national conflicts never cared to move forward the enactment of the farmers/community-initiated bills, particularly those dealing with issues that concerned the community most such as water, forestry management, coastal resources, and community administration.

Mr Hannarong suggested that potential problems still loom large even the Feb 2 election proceeds, therefore the election could be postponed to think through about the reform and allow poll-related organisation problems to be resolved.

"It will be the election in the climate of fear as no one dares to speak up one’s mind. We have yet to see political parties listen or take up proposals of the farmers for the forthcoming election," said Mr Hannarong. 

Veerawat Dheeraprasart, chair of the Thai Environment Network, said political sector did not listen and accommodate the proposals of the people movement.

"Reform process requires sincerity of parties concerned, transparent and accountable process and mechanisms, and the clear issues or content," said Mr Veerawat.

But the political deadlock have stagnated the much-said reform so all conflicting sides need to unlock the dilemma by reducing their demands and condition and allow the real people to move forward their agenda, said Mr Veerawat.

"Both leaders have been in power, so it's time to bow out for the sake of diffusing the violence," said Mr Veerawat, adding that the government was required to make the gesture first by revoking the decree.

Prapat Panyachartraksa, chair of the National Farmers Council, said Mr Suthep needed to discourage the hate speeches that hover the air of the protest and lower the PDRC's demands as well.

"Whether people across different colours of ideologies, faiths, and ethics, backward or progressive leaning, we are all Thais. We should not push people apart or Thai society will get out of the cliff," said Mr Prapat.

Prayong Doklamyai, People's Movement adviser, said the people did not seem to have the power to unlock the political stalemate, but he believed the key was land reform. 

Unless Thailand fairly disseminate land title claims to the people, especially promoting the issuance of common titles to community for public use of the locals and prevent land speculation and land monopoly, the reform could really be considered achieved, said Mr Prayong.

Currently, three of 15 million land title deeds holders own as many as 79% of 94 million rais which were already issued the title deeds, said the Chiang Mai-based Prayong.

Saree Ongsomwang, president of Consumer's Protection Foundation, has suggested continuation of sustainable populist measures such as welfare, free health services and education but stopped the budget-bleeding populist mechanisms.

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