BANGKOK – Buddha Issara, the Buddhist monk who helped lead the six-month protest campaign that paved way for the military coup in May, was given a VIP welcome by the presidents of Thailand’s legislative and reform councils today.
The 58-year-old firebrand monk arrived at Parliament this morning to submit a proposal to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and National Reform Council (NRC), the two bodies appointed by the military junta to pass laws and implement national reforms over the next year.
Buddha Issara was personally welcomed by NLA President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai and NRC Chairman Thianchay Kiranandana, despite the fact that he faces multiple charges related to his role in the sporadically violent protests against the former government earlier this year.
After handing his petition to Pornpetch, Buddha Issara said he would like lawmakers to establish an agency to "monitor and curb the behavior and ethics of all politicians," and amend criminal laws to remove statutes of limitations for corruption charges.
"Every ordinary citizen should be able to file a corruption charge. It shouldn't only be the duty of state agencies," Buddha Issara told reporters. "If there are [corruption] complaints against any politicians, they must be suspended from their duties until there is clarity on the matter."
The monk said the petition also proposes legislation that "prevents rich people from stealing the jobs of poor people," and over 90 other suggestions concerning the country's energy industry.
After receiving the petition, Pornpetch assured Buddha Issara that the NLA and Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) will carefully consider his proposals.
"As far as I have listened to Luang Phu [elder monk], I think his proposal is very beneficial to the administration and economy of our nation," Pornpetch said.
Speaking to reporters, Buddha Issara urged all political parties to contribute to the drafting of the new constitution.
"All sides should cooperate in drafting of the new charter, so they won't talk about how the new constitution will be a poisonous fruit from a poisonous tree," the monk said. "If anyone doesn't cooperate or refuses to join the process, it means they intend to prolong problems in the country. They want to cause unrest in the country. They are disgusting."
Buddha Issara was one of the most visible leaders of the protest group, named the People's Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State (PCAD), which sought to topple the former government between December 2013 and May 2014.
Considered the leader of the PCAD’s "hardcore" faction, Buddha Issara oversaw the storming of government buildings, blocking of major roads, and armed clashes between PCAD militants and pro-government protesters. The monk also led his supporters to besiege various voting stations during the 2 February election in an attempt to block the poll, which the ruling party was expected to win.
Police charged the monk with insurrection and disruption of national election for his role in the protests, but no arrest was ever made.
The PCAD campaign came to an end in May 2014 when the military unilaterally declared martial law and staged a coup against the former government. Although the coup-makers insist they are not allied to any of Thailand's political factions, the junta has carried out the PCAD's key demand of postponing elections to implement national reforms.
Buddha Issara has praised the military for their intervention, and today defended the retention of martial law seven months after the coup.
"Some political parties want the military to repeal martial law because they see it as obstacle to expressing opinions," Buddha Issara said. "But in my opinion, you can express your opinion under martial law anyway. There's no problem at all."
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