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Friday, May 23, 2008
Learning to tolerate and accept differing views
As a kid I loved going to amusement parks - in particular roller coaster rides. There's the anticipation that builds up as you climb on and buckle up in your seat. Then the ride starts, climbing gradually as you reach a high point, then the rush as you zoom down, then up and over and upside down. What as rush, what a thrill. The great thing about these rides is that you know, in the back of your mind, that eventually the ride will slowdown and you are back to where you started - in most cases - safely. What a sense of relief.
Our political history, especially our journey towards a more democratic society, has been like a roller coaster with its ups and downs. Despite periods of political uncertainty, in most cases (except in instances where violence erupts) we eventually get to enjoy that sense of relief when finally things settle down. And in the past tumultuous situations do eventually settle down.
But for the past several years now this has not been the case. Political uncertainty has prevailed far longer than expected. What's different from the past is that we remain a country deeply divided. What's different from the past is that we do not really know how it will all play out or what is the way out. Of course, our country's current situation cannot be compared to a kid's roller coaster thrill. It is far more serious and the worst case scenario is simply disastrous.
Again we are faced with a bid to amend the charter, driven by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Again we are faced with protests by his opponents who say the move serves only individual interests (namely that of Thaksin) rather than the public at large. Over the weekend, the political temperatures rose when charter amendment opponents took to the streets in protest despite Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's attempt to defuse tensions by proposing a referendum on the issue. Already some minor clashes have occurred between pro and anti-charter groups while the Cabinet today resolved to proceed with the referendum.
When amendment deliberations commence in Parliament, opposition will heighten and worsen the divide. There is talk and fear that supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, specifically New Chidchob from Buriram, would muster up support for the charter amendment by bringing in rural supporters into the city. Politicians have told me that if this occurs, the Army will try to 'block" them from entering the city. But if the rural numbers are large, we will be faced with an undesirable situation of people squaring off with the military - a potential powder keg.
Simmering along side moves to amend the charter is the Jakrapob Penkair controversy resulting from his comments on the Monarchy, the patronage system and democracy. Many believe the Jakrapob issue could trigger yet another coup d'etat, despite public comments otherwise by military leaders. I had hoped over the weekend that Mr Jakrapob would make the right decision - resign and face whatever legal action is filed against him. Such action would ease tension considerably and remove a likely trigger for a coup d'etat. But the trigger remains and it appears that it will remain in place for another seven days as Mr Jakrapob "takes leave" to consider his options. He will assess, as advised by Mr Thaksin, to explain his comments and gauge public feedback. The word is, however, that quite a number of combat commanders are ready for the tanks to roll but their superiors at the top have remained silent, for now. They too, I am certain, will be monitoring feedback. Let's see what happens within the next seven days.
In the meantime the People's Alliance for Democracy continue their demonstrations in front of Government House. If supporters of the charter amendment gather as well, the prospect of confrontation increases. The role of police is crucial at this stage. They must keep the opposing groups apart. They must be firm yet fair to both sides. The military must also show restraint. But in the end, much depends on those supporting and opposing the proposed charter amendments. Both sides often talk the talk of democracy.
But we must not forget that a crucial element of any democractic society is tolerating differing and opposing views. It means accepting the rights of others to express those views which we so vehemently disagree with. It means avoidance of any form of violence against those who express a different view. It means refraining from using physical force to make a point or just because we do not achieved what we want. We all need to learn this fundamental principle.