A new law aiming to regulate activities of NGOs and nonprofits in Thailand is expected to pass soon. The government points out that every country has similar laws, necessary for public accountability. NGOs are concerned the law will impose severe restrictions on NGO actions and activities. Despite widespread opposition to this controversial legislation, the movement against it hasn’t gained much traction. Lertsak Kamkongsak, a leader of the Commoner Party, questions whether now is the time for people who have turned a blind eye to injustice to reconsider their position.

By Lertsak Kamkongsak

Those who should be on the frontline opposing the newly drafted NGO law are the NGOs, civil society organizations, lawyers, and scholars who have supported coups d’état.

It should be those who hollered and hurrahed when the military seized power from the Thaksin government on September 19, 2006 and toppled the Yingluck government on May 22, 2014.

It should be those who enthused and cheered for the deadly crackdown on Redshirt brothers and sisters, who were murdered in the middle of Bangkok’s streets back in 2010.

It should be those who were appointed to all those “national reform” committees (including those who worked behind the scene, lobbying, coordinating, and providing support) for keeping Abhisit Vejjajiva in the seat of power, even after the slaughter of the Redshirt protesters in the heart of the capital.

It is those people that should be coming out onto the frontline to fight against this law.

For others (including myself) who have rectified themselves, or are not like those I just mentioned above, I sincerely apologize.

It is because these people belong to the same group, whether the old faces from the 2006 coup, or the new faces that emerged after the 2014 coup. There are old people, middle-aged people, and even young people whose ideology is in opposition to democracy. They actively undermined democracy right up to this latest push for the draft “Support and Development of Non-Governmental Organizations Act,” which was proposed to the parliament with over 10,000 signatures of citizens in support.

Originally, the proposed law’s stated intention was to to develop the capacity and competence of non-governmental organizations. It suggested that the government set up funds for NGO activities promoting rights and freedom ironically, at a time when the government was violently suppressing the rights of civil society and the freedom of political expression of peaceful protesters demanding reform of the monarchy.

The proposed law, however, ignores the structural violence civil society has been facing. The draft was eventually turned into the “Non-Governmental Organizations Operation Act,” after consideration by the Office of the Council of State which handed this new draft over to Prayut’s authoritarian cabinet on January 4.

It is a mistake that’s been prompted by these NGOs, civil society organizations, lawyers, and scholars who love to stomp upon citizens’ movements. They are partly responsible for the draft bill that is a legacy of a long-standing notion, beginning at least from the 2006 coup, that civil society organizations should be an obedient child of the government, instead of being free from state influence.

And here is the damage this law can cause: the jurisdiction of this law would control not only NGOs but any group of citizens who would like to form an organization, club, association, network, council, assembly, union, and so on. It would tighten the grip on any group that organizes public activities or charities, whether for political awareness or merely vocational purposes. It covers even rescue volunteers organizations, mahjong clubs, petanque clubs, and pool clubs.

I’m demanding this, but it doesn’t mean that other NGOs, civil organizations, lawyers, and scholars who don’t support coups do not have to voice their opposition. I’d like to invite all to come out to block this law. I specifically call out those who’ve supported coups because they do not feel enough remorse or shame over the wrong they helped to create, and they continue to uphold that wrong. They still call good what is evil. They lack sympathy and they don’t care to apologize.

I’d like to put it out there that the first thing to do in the fight against this law is to take it to the streets, not preparing like some sort of lobbyist for the public hearing on the impact of the law that the Social Development and Human Security Ministry has been assigned by the cabinet to set up, or in the legislation review committee that would be set up by the House of Representatives.

Worst of all, if it happens, the proposed law would provide for another body to be set up. A “Nonprofit Organizations Support and Development Committee.” would be made up by “representative members of non-profit organizations” and “expert members.” 

The first two committees are somewhat acceptable, but the selection of members must come from a process that is created from protests that yield effective and clear results, not from some child’s-play rallies. They must also be approved by the public at large who have participated in the fight, not by a few cronies conspiring together in secret.

But the third body is totally unacceptable. Those sitting in that committee would essentially be conning the people into believing they were fighting on their behalf, or they would be using the people as stepping stones. It would mean they had tricked the people who held that this law was illegitimate and must be thwarted, only to double-cross the public later by themselves brazenly taking part in this wrongful system.

Social development is a process of history. Conflicts are needed in order to create what is better. What we in civil society should always do is to criticize and resolve the issues facing Thai society, to not easily submit to seniority, nepotism, or favoritism to the point that we lose our sight and creativity. Otherwise, we would inevitably become zealous nationalists, living blindly in the old glory days and incapable of having a fresh vision.

A movement to oppose this drafted bill would show which of the NGOs, civil society organizations, lawyers, and scholars remain supporters of coups and dictatorship, and who place the burden of fighting on the frontline on ordinary people while they hang back in the safe zone.

This article appeared in Thai on ถึงเวลาคนหนุนรัฐประหารค้านร่าง พ.ร.บ.คุมองค์กรไม่แสวงหากำไร

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