Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Parliament finally pass Asean agreements and pacts

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation
Published on January 28, 2009

Thai lawmakers yesterday approved a total of 41 crucial Asean and related agreements following a stormy House session which was suspended twice due to heated debates.

The passage of these agreements would allow the government to sign deals with its counterparts during the upcoming Asean summit from Feb 27 to March 1.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would join other Asean leaders in signing eight pacts during the summit, while foreign ministers of Asean would sign five separate agreements.

The rest of 28 agreements will be signed by economic and other related ministers of the 10 Asean countries.

Article 190 of the Thai Constitution requires the government to seek parliamentary mandate before negotiating and signing any agreements with foreign countries.

The Asean documents include the Bangkok Declaration on the roadmap for an ASEAN Community and framework for the Asean human right body, which would turn Asean into a regional community and a legal-based organization.

Thai parliament also approved free trade agreements which Thailand would join other members and dialogue partners.

These free trade pacts included agreements between Asean and partners from India, China, Australia and New Zealand.

Foreign, commerce, labor, transportation and public health ministries would be involved.

Some bilateral agreements such as on human trafficking with Burma and on labor cooperation with South Korea were also approved.

A total of 36 member ad-hoc committee will scrutinize some of the pacts such as Asean document for human right body and a memorandum of understanding on labor with South Korea. The committee would complete their works within 15 days.

Chai Chidchob, who chaired the morning House session, asked a break for five minutes as the debate involving Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's role in earlier street protests appeared to have gone beyond the limit.

Jatuporn Prompan from the opposition Pheu Thai Party heated up the session when he asked Kasit to clarify his role in the People's Alliance for Democracy's lengthy protest last year.

Kasit's rude verbal attack to Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen during last year's protests was also cited as a harm to confidence among neighboring countries, the opposition MP said.

"Shame on you, Mr Kasit as you referred to Cambodian Prime Minister with such rude words," Jatuporn said in the parliament.

In a television talk show on October 14 last year, Kasit called Hun Sen a "thug" when Cambodia offered ultimatum for Thai troop withdrawal from Preah Vihear temple's vicinity.

Jatuporn's speech led to a number of objections from Democrat's members including Boonyod Sukthinthai, Chamni Sakdiset and Kraisak Choonhavan.

The debate aimed to ask approval for Asean pacts, rather than a censure motion against the foreign minister, they said in defending the foreign minister.

In response, Kasit said he exercised his right as a Thai citizen to launch the verbal attack to Hun Sen when the latter posed a threat to Thailand. But now he claimed to have a good term with Hun Sen.

Kasit also told the parliament that he saw nothing wrong with the airport closure since many airports around the world also needed to close after protests by pilots or ground staffs.

"I have never seen any countries compensate for the tourists for that matter," he said and added his government has a special care to compensate the travelers.

The afternoon session was also heated during a consideration of free-trade agreements when a Peu Thai MP urged Chairman Prasopsuk Boondej to count the quorum since saw small number of parliamentarians in the meeting room.

Democrat's Boonyod opposed the move saying many members listening out side while Peu Thai Party's Sunai Jullapongsathorn accused the chairman of siding with the government and referred to Boonyod as a pro-dictator journalist. Boonyod was an ex-journalist who hailed the 2006 coup.

Many non-elected senators joined the quarrel before the chairman call another break.

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