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Thai Interim Parliament Cranks Out Laws, Stirs Concern

Members of Thailand's National Legislative Assembly confer in Bangkok, March 5, 2015.
Members of Thailand's National Legislative Assembly confer in Bangkok, March 5, 2015.

It usually meets just twice a week, and many of its 220 members have little or no experience of making laws. But that hasn't slowed down Thailand's interim parliament, which was installed by the military junta that seized power last May.

In five months, with minimal public consultation, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has passed 61 laws governing everything from debt collection to surrogate parenting to the use of unmanned drones.

Almost 100 more laws are up for consideration, including major legislation to protect intellectual copyright and "digitize'' Thailand's ailing post-coup economy.

The NLA's feverish lawmaking, however, is causing increasing disquiet about erosion of freedoms.

Civic groups say some laws seem designed to consolidate the military's grip on power before a general election scheduled for next year. Other laws, these groups say — such as one that restricts public demonstrations and allows the military to detain civilians without charge — are so ill-conceived they might need to be undone by future governments.

Information and Communications Technology Minister Pornchai Rujiprapa said critics were unduly worried.

General's choices

The NLA's members were handpicked by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief whose coup toppled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's elected government. More than 100 members are former or serving soldiers; others are academics, ex-senators and business people. Not all have lawmaking experience, said activist Srisuwan Janya, head of the Association of Organizations Protecting the Thai Constitution.

"They should not draft laws without any real understanding of the law. The public demonstration bill, for example, if it is not well-written, will affect people's right to hold rallies,'' Srisuwan told Reuters.

The NLA's apparent reluctance to consult outside experts could also erode the junta's core support among Bangkok's middle class and business elite, analysts say.

"There will be increasing conflict over these laws, including disquiet from those who support the military government,'' Worajet Pakeerat, a lecturer at Thammasart University's Faculty of Law, told Reuters.

The lack of consultation also worries foreign investors.

"We're concerned in particular for laws regarding online privacy, which are troubling for companies doing business in Thailand,'' said a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The NLA's overdrive is partly explained by the need to clear a legislative backlog from the last months of Yingluck's government, which was crippled by protests.

Erosion of rights

But rights groups say some laws erode basic rights. For example, they say, a series of bills aimed at creating a "digital economy'' would allow state spying without a court order.

"If they were to pass, what you would have is unfettered ability by the government to violate people's privacy,'' said Sam Zarifi, Asia director for the International Commission of Jurists.

Last month, the NLA voted overwhelmingly for a bill restricting political protests. A week before that, it passed a law that could allow the military to detain civilians for up to 84 days without charge.

"We're getting quantity but not quality, and the laws do not meet the needs of the public,'' Samart Kaewmeechai, a member of Yingluck's Puea Thai Party, told Reuters.

And the NLA makes no secret of where it gets its orders.

"Most laws we have amended are because the NCPO suggested it,'' said Peerasak Porchit, the assembly's vice president. He was referring to Prayuth's junta, the National Council for Peace and Order.

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