Sunday, September 15, 2013

The '108 Forums' nobody has heard of

‘108 forums’ around the nation that nobody has heard of

It must have come as a surprise to many. A Cabinet release last week said the government had acknowledged an official report to the effect that a nationwide campaign of public hearings for national reconciliation at 108 forums had been completed.

Has anyone heard anything about this supposed “public forums” that were supposed to have been held around the country between June 10 to July 28, this year?

These sessions, funded by tax-payers’ money, were also supposed to have been organized by “representatives of faculty members from various universities.” We have yet to be told who these academics were and how they had been picked in the first place.

What was more puzzling was that according to the official report, this campaign had gathered a total of 101,683 people to join the forums. Besides, a total of 58,183 people were said to have responded to questionnaires.

In case you, like most of the rest of the country, haven’t heard about this particular project, let me cite the statement given out by deputy government spokesperson, Lt Sunisa Lerdpakawat, who said the campaign was officially labeled: “108 Forums of Conversations to Find a Way Out for Thailand.”

No, they weren’t held in secret. In fact, the sessions were to be public gatherings of people from all walks of life to exchange ideas of how the country could overcome the current political stalemate. If you have never met anyone who has taken part in the debate, you are in the majority.

To prove that the discussions actually took place, the report cited the findings of the project. The six-week exercise identified ten major obstacles that have been blocking Thai society from going forwards:

1. Different understandings about democracy.

2. Doubt over the country’s rule of law.

3. The so-called “judicial reform” has interfered with independent agencies.

4. Military coups and the military establishment’s role in conflict management.

5. Economic and social gaps.

6. Media bias.

7. Reference to the monarchy for political interests.

8. Lack of knowledge to resolve conflicts through peaceful means in society.

9. High stakes in political conflicts and related interests.

10. Corruption.

You could be excused to cast suspicion on the timing of the wrapping-up of the report. At the national level, the government’s sponsored Reform Commission, now being coordinated by coalition partner Banharn Silpa-archa, is due to hold the second meeting soon.

You should, therefore, not be taken aback at all if the “findings” from these forums were suddenly submitted to the Commission. But whether they will be accepted in full or not remains a big question.

Even Banharn himself has admitted that the process will take time and that so far the job could be considered 10% done. “The prime minister has said even if we could accomplish 1% of the task, she would be satisfied. As I see it, 10% is better than 1%,” Banharn told reporters. If he didn’t sound very optimistic, it was only because the veteran politician himself doesn’t really know what’s in store in the next meetings on the subject.

The first much-trumpeted meeting at the Government House didn’t offer any concrete idea on how the project would proceed, except that more meetings will be held. It’s not clear what Banharn is supposed to do, except that he will be visiting leading personalities from various circles “to listen to their opinions.”

Prime Minister Yingluck has said she won’t offer any suggestions on how national reconciliation could be achieved, the official reason being that the government didn’t want to influence the outcome of the discussions. But without the premier’s making the first step towards reconciliation, the whole exercise will just be another “political event” – a political stunt, no more no less.

And the tax-payers have yet to be briefed on what really went on in those 108 forums around the country

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