Huge forum to push for political reforms

APINYA WIPATAYOTIN

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Non-governmental organisations and civic groups from across the country will hold a massive gathering next month to discuss political and social reforms and to offer suggestions on a new charter. About 3,000 people from 40 NGOs are expected to join the three-day Thai Social Forum (TSF) at Thammasat University's Rangsit campus on Oct 21-23.

It will be the biggest gathering of academics and social advocates in several years.

The timing of the forum, planned since early this year, was good because Thai society was now in a transition period with a new constitution about to be drafted, the organisers said.

The TSF organising committee, led by former senator Jon Ungpakorn, yesterday promoted its social reform campaign by releasing a petition which called on the Council for Democratic Reform (CDR) to lift martial law, revoke its ban on political gatherings and end media interference.

The group said the interim government should refrain from implementing any mega-projects and also suspend talks on free trade agreements (FTA). They said the selection of the constitution drafting assembly should be done by the people, not by the coup leaders, as that would be unacceptable to society at large.

We need constitution drafters who represent all sectors of society to ensure that the new charter truly protects the fundamental rights of the people, said Mr Jon.

Speaking at yesterday's press conference to promote the upcoming forum, Mr Jon said the event would be a platform for people from all sectors to make recommendations on the new charter.

The forum would also cover issues like the impact of FTAs, privatisation of state enterprises, the HIV/Aids situation, the southern unrest and the plight of tsunami victims.

The participants will gather at Lumpini park on the last day to announce the people's viewpoints on political and social reforms. I hope the interim government and the coup leaders will not disrupt our planned move, Mr Jon said.

Meanwhile, the Montreal-based World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters has deplored the military takeover in Thailand and called on the coup makers to allow media freedom, democracy and the people's right to free expression.

The association's Asia-Pacific? president Ashish Sen urged the military to stop blocking the free flow of information and to encourage the existence of community radio stations as well as other media. The move came after the CDR ordered the closure of more than 300 community radio stations in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son.