July 25, 2021

Thailand Approaches Former Prime Ministers to Lead Reconciliation Panel

(Bloomberg) — Thailand may rope in a former prime minister to lead a reconciliation committee proposed by the parliament to resolve key issues raised by pro-democracy protesters.

House Speaker Chuan Leekpai has approached at least four former premiers and representatives of several political parties to be part of the panel, which may also include protest groups. A special parliament session last week proposed the formation of the reconciliation committee and designated Chuan, himself a former prime minister, to finalize its composition.

Former prime ministers Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, Anand Panyarachun and Abhisit Vejjajiva are willing to support the committee’s work, Chuan said adding that he’s still waiting to discuss the issue with Somchai Wongsawat. The move to diffuse the political tension follows King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s olive branch to protesters in which he called Thailand “the land of compromise.”

The protesters, who have been staging near-daily gatherings for almost three weeks, are demanding more transparency and accountability for the monarchy, a rewritten constitution, and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who had repeatedly refused to quit. The political unrest has eroded investor confidence with the benchmark Thai stock index extending losses to 23% this year.

While Prayuth has supported charter amendment and the formation of the reconciliation committee, protest groups have threatened to remain on the streets until their demands are fully met. The suggestions of past reconciliation committees in Thailand have largely gone ignored, including recommendations issued after the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2010.

The three former premiers who’ve expressed interest in the committee have long had connections with the royalist camp. Chavalit is a former army chief, Anand was appointed as prime minister by the junta after the 1991 coup, and Abhisit faced street protests that ended with 2010’s deadly suppression.

The parliament will restart the stalled process for charter amendment on Nov. 17, Chuan said on Tuesday. Input from the public on the amendment will also be included in the discussions, he said, adding the parliament will vote on the pathways to rewrite the constitution by Nov. 18.

The protesters have broken long-held taboos about publicly criticizing the royal family, with demands for the monarch to no longer endorse coups, provide transparency in how funds are spent, and the abolition of laws that stifle discussion of the royal family.

While the anti-government groups haven’t staged a major rally since marching to the Germany embassy last week to demand a probe into King Vajiralongkorn’s legal status in the European country, pro-royalist groups have held demonstrations, raising fears of clashes between the rival gatherings. But the political disruptions are unlikely to trigger immediate economic implications, according to DBS Bank Ltd.

“While ongoing political protests compound the challenging growth environment due to the coronavirus, the fallout might not be long-lasting, barring an escalation in tensions,” DBS said in a report Tuesday.

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