RACE TO PARLIAMENT
Approves bills to give universities autonomy
The crowd of demonstrators outside did not intrude into the National Legislative Assembly this time, but launched paper planes into the grounds.
The military-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) shrugged off further protests calling for it to cease passing new legislation yesterday, approving controversial bills to give three state universities autonomous status.
The Chulalongkorn University and King Mongkut Institute of Technology (KMIT) Lat Krabang bills passed the final reading with the same votes, 134-6.
The bill for Chiang Mai University also waltzed through, by 138-5 votes.
Passing the bills was the final step in allowing the three universities to become autonomous higher institutes.
However, the NLA is sure to face further pressure to cease voting on government legislation, with the highly-controversial Internal Security Bill next up for debate today. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont has thrown his full support behind the bill, saying he wants it enacted during his tenure.
Critics have called for the NLA to leave the bills to an elected parliament to consider. Other bills the NLA is scheduled to debate include the Water Resources, Radio and Television Broadcasting and Farmers' Council bills.
Critics say there has been a lack of public participation under the military-appointed government and assembly who lack the legitimacy to pass such far-reaching legislation.
Staff at Parliament House carry Y-shaped wooden staves for use in preventing demonstrators climbing over the fence.
Former senator Jon Ungphakorn, who led yesterday's protest, denounced the move to free public universities from state control, saying it was shameful as public universities would lose their dignity. The bills allowed university executives and certain lecturers to reap profits from the universities, he said.
Outside parliament, about 300 protesters including university students, academics and activists gathered at the Dusit Zoo side of the compound to put pressure on the NLA. Some protesters blocked the front gate, forcing NLA members to use alternative entrances.
The protest prompted police to set up barriers to prevent the demonstrators from entering the compound. About 100 protesters stormed the compound last week, with about 50 managing to enter the parliament building where they forced the NLA to adjourn its session.
''The NLA lacks a mandate to consider any bills as it was set up by coup makers,'' said Mr Jon. ''These bills are dangerous to the public and violate human rights.''
Protest leaders took turns yesterday to criticise the NLA for trying to rush through the bills and said several legislators had conflicts of interests.
Among those accused of having conflicts of interest were Chulalongkorn University rector Suchada Kiranandana and NLA Speaker Meechai Ruchupan, who serves as chairman of Maha Sarakham and Burapha and universities and is vice-chairman of KMIT Lat Krabang.
Kept outside the fence, protesters bombarded the parliament grounds with paper planes covered with messages criticising the legislative body.
Mr Jon said protesters had resolved to gather in front of parliament for three consecutive days during which the bills were being considered by the NLA.
Protesters said they would increase their pressure today when the NLA brought the much-criticised Internal Security Bill for deliberation.
He said the rally would be peaceful but promised to use different tactics to stop the assembly from functioning.