Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thai Round Five: Can we make this the last round?

We have fallen as a nation, and getting up together is all we must do
By Tulsathit Taptim

The close call could not have been closer. But having relied on miracles to get back from the brink, Thailand now has to muster every ounce of collective determination and ability to forgive and forget in order to deal with the seemingly indelible scar of the last few days and get forward as a nation. It will be a long road of rehabilitation, if rehabilitation can really begin at all, that is.

It's an irony that, to sympathizers of the red shirted protesters, they came to rally in Bangkok because they felt alienated, and now they have to go back home having alienated themselves through aggression that for some time made everyone fear for a civil war. The government, having politically benefited from the red shirted protesters' self-alienation, now has an ironic job of quickly fixing what must be a deep sense of isolation. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has rightly approached the crisis with "Everyone is a Thai" principle, and now he has to implement that philosophy post-crisis to heal national wounds.

Nobody has been the winner, and the nation as a whole has been down for a nine count. While Abhisit has come through a major challenge and should be commended for his cool-headed response to a series of emergencies, which could have easily degenerated into something much worse, the next challenge is simply bigger. He more or less has won over some neutrals, but unless he seriously reaches out far beyond his political comfort zone, rehabilitation will prove very difficult indeed.

For the red-shirted movemet, it has been a campaign of a frustrated, angry young man who turned to violence when all else failed. Further autopsy is needed to determine if that angry young man was also badly confused. Was he really upset with the Privy Council and honestly convinced that a constitutional monarchy democracy can still drive Thailand but for some manipulative advisers to the King? Did he or did he not love Thaksin Shinawatra? Was he campaigning for the rich fugitive whom he liked as a leader, or was he fighting for real values far beyond that highly-controversial politician?

Whatever the answers, the angry young man may have only been temporarily subdued after making a big blunder. The "victory" declared after the cancellation of the Asean summit in Pattaya was apparently mistaken as a license to up the stakes and run amok. What the angry young man did not realize was that, as he seemingly was chasing his opponent around the ring, he totally lowered his own guards. He forgot the rules of the game and the rest is history.

Will he get even angrier when waking up from the daze? To understand that angry young man is as difficult as making him understand you back. It's Abhisit's duty to find out if a political movement seen as deeply associated with Thaksin Shinawatra in fact possesses some other driving energies that everyone may have overlooked.

As for Thaksin, his calls for HM the King to intervene at the height of the crisis still had the characteristic doubled meanings. The former leader may have been shocked by how fast things were deteriorating and thus probably come back to his senses. Or it could have been just another one of his politically-motivated statements that couldn't be taken too seriously. After all, with the rampaging red shirted protesters looking up to him as the ultimate idol, Thaksin was in a better position than anyone else to calm them down.

Rehabilitation without Thaksin's involvement will be difficult, though still possible. Rehabilitation with Thaksin's sincere participation will make things much easier, though the scenario is far less possible. He has become even more adamant than before that he was a victim of a anti-democracy conspiracy and never admits that he has been a big part, if not root cause, of the Thai crisis.

The wounds will leave a deep scar. Although in terms of casaulties the Black Songkran is less cursed than the October 6 bloodbath, the 1992 May Crisis and last year's October 7 infamy, we all know that this could have easily been the worst of them all. It's simply a close call of the kind that makes people with common senses review their own acts, not others', in its aftermath.

It's our duty to find hope when desperation seems to prevail. We can take heart at the way troops generally handled the situation, and how the majority of the protesters at Government House responded to the setbacks and sacrificed "victory" for common interests. Some good principles have seemed to exist on both sides, and merging them instead of making them clash is the only way forward.

Extremely difficult as it looks, we don't have other choices. Reconcilation has been a fashionable word for too long, during which both sides of the divide were firmly on their toes ready to pounce on each other. As a result, we have fallen as a nation, and only through realising this can we get up together again.

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