PM signals end to ban on political activities
| A supporter of satellite television channel PTV carries a placard reading "Thaksin Come Home" during a rally organised by the station outside City Hall yesterday. PTV executives took turns to criticise the government. — APICHART JINAKUL
Protesters turned out at City Hall and Sanam Luang despite Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont's new bid to defuse tension by hinting that a ban on political activities may be lifted in September. About 4,000 people converged at City Hall's Lan Khon Muang public ground for a rally led by PTV, the satellite-based television station launched by former members of the Thai Rak Thai party founded by deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Chatuporn Prompan, Nattavuth Saigua and Veera Musikhapong took turns criticising the Council for National Security (CNS) for its handling of southern unrest and appointment of the new board of the Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) chaired by CNS deputy secretary-general Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr.
Korkaew Pikulthong, a rally leader, told the crowds that distorted facts are behind the problems at Suvarnabhumi airport. He said the AoT board made the problems out to be corruption when they were actually physical flaws.
''The board is out to destroy Mr Thaksin with Suvarnabhumi airport as the symbol of its mission,'' Mr Korkaew said.
Mr Natthavuth said the CNS could not solve the southern insurgency and instead had decided to blame it on the Wada political group, which was formerly affiliated to Thai Rak Thai.
Chakkrapob Penkair, another speaker, said that on the day democracy returns, the people who usurped power will have to face the music.
The demonstrators at City Hall were urged to sign a petition urging Gen Prem Tinsulanonda be removed as president of the Privy Council, and to boycott a public referendum on a new charter now being drafted. They dispersed without incident at about 11pm.
PTV speakers had suggested at the rally last Friday that Gen Prem may have been the main backer of the Sept 19 military coup.
The rally participants were largely the same group as those who joined the PTV rally at Sanam Luang on March 23, and landless farmers who had earlier camped out at the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry.
Off stage, Mr Chatuporn said PTV would not suspend its rallies even though the station obtained a licence to go on air.
Meanwhile, some 100 coup opponents, under the leadership of the Pirap Khao group, turned out at Sanam Luang, defying a ban on use of amplification equipment and make-shift stages at the public ground. Authorities made not attempt to intervene.
The rally leaders criticised the CNS and Gen Prem's involvement in politics.
Both the rallies at Lan Khon Muang and Sanam Luang proceeded under tight security.
Political parties felt Gen Surayud's proposal to lift the ban on activities conducted by political parties would come too late.
They said if the ban was lifted in September as proposed, they would be left with too little time to prepare for the general election, expected to be held in the middle of December.
Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the ban effectively kept politicians from receiving public input, which was the key to shaping up national administration policies.
''We are not the kind of people who wait for a bell to ring before we jump into the ring. We have a job to do,'' said Mr Abhisit.
Acting Thai Rak Thai leader Chaturon Chaisaeng said the elections would not be an effective democratic process if each party simply told voters to vote for their candidates.
|"You did not come from elections, so you do not care and do not understand that political parties have to talk with academics and other groups and explain platforms to people."
ACTING THAI RAK THAI LEADER
''You did not come from elections, so you do not care and do not understand that parties have to talk with academics and other groups and explain their policy platforms to people. We do not just go out and tell them to vote for this party,'' he said.
Somsak Thepsuthin, leader of the Matchima political group, said lifting the ban in September could result in the polls being deferred, as new parties would not be able to finish registering in time.
Akapol Sorasuchart, deputy leader of the Mahachon party, said each political party should have at least 180 days or six months to prepare for the general election.
Somsak Prisanananthakul, a deputy Chat Thai party leader, said the government had decided to return the mandate to the people and so it should not worry about party activities. Besides, parties could help the government and the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA), educating people about the charter, he said.
The CDA anticipated that the public referendum could be held in September and the general election some time in late-December.
Gen Surayud said the CDA chairman, Noranit Sethabutr, had suggested the most appropriate date for the general election was either Sunday, Dec 16 or Dec 23.
''We did not discuss [the prospect of] lifting the ban in September. But we talked about a time-frame which parties should have to prepare for elections,'' he said.
''We will give them enough time.''
Gen Surayud's move was seen as an attempt to pre-empt confrontation.
On Wednesday, he talked about setting Dec 16 or Dec 23 as election day, after refusing to invoke emergency powers.
In the face of mounting protests, acting national police chief Pol Gen Seripisuth Temiyavej yesterday laid down extra security precautions and guidelines for handling of demonstrations.
In an order issued to senior commanding officers, he put Pol Gen Sombat Amornwiwat, deputy police chief for security, in charge of handling protests, with Pol Gen Vichian Potphosi and Pol Lt-Gen Adul Saengsingkeow as his assistants.