Govt U-turn isn't enough

When the self-serving amnesty bill put the country on the brink of a new round of political crisis, the government quickly backtracked to appease public anger.

It was the right thing to do. The question, however, is whether or not the government can stem the mass protests now that the genie is out of the bottle.

In a damage-control move, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra promised to give up on the controversial bill as well as six other different versions of the legislation.

Visibly shaken by the biggest mass protest of her tenure _ which is still growing like wildfire _ Ms Yingluck pleaded for an end to the mass protests in order to restore the confidence of the international community which is crucial for the economy. For the protesters, however, the premier's promise was too little and her plea simply came too late.

In short, the political situation remains highly volatile.

Despite the government's concessions, the rally at the Democracy Monument led by Suthep Thaugsuban has refused to back down. The decisions by the Dharma Army and the Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand to move their protest sites closer to parliament and Government House have intensified concerns the rallies will not stop at burying the amnesty bills, but now take aim at the government.

Monday will be a crucial time. It's the day the Senate will have to make good on their promise to reject the controversial amnesty bill. It's also the day the International Court of Justice will deliver its Preah Vihear territorial dispute ruling.

Should the ruling not go in Thailand's favour, it's most likely the country will plunge into a nationalistic frenzy which will be politically exploited to overthrow the government. The outcome would not be pretty.

This is the time for clear-headedness.

Both the government and protest groups must exercise great caution to prevent Thailand from repeating the same mistake that led to the 2006 coup and has plunged the country into a political abyss for the past decade.

There are worrying signs. At the rallies, we hear not only deep hatred against the divisive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is seen as the mastermind of the blanket amnesty bill. The rhetoric also chillingly echoes the time before the 2006 putsch, with the drumming up of ultra-royalism and ultra-nationalism to demonise political enemies. Some speakers even called for violence.

After a decade of political instability, and particularly after the bloody 2010 crackdown under the Democrat government, Democrat politicians and other protest leaders should know better than to abuse public reverence for the monarchy or misguided nationalism for political gain.

They also should realise that one wrong move to instigate violent confrontation will make them lose their legitimacy immediately. Worse, it will mean the political doom of the country once again.

The Pheu Thai government should also realise that the current outburst of public anger not only stems from the blanket amnesty bill, but also from the way it has been abusing its majority power over the past two years.

Its promises to throw out the amnesty and unity bills and to refrain from using violence against protesters are welcome, but not enough. It must stop using its parliamentary dictatorship to shove controversial policies down the public's throat the same way it did with the blanket amnesty bill.

The military, meanwhile, must realise its place is in the barracks. Despite the political bumps, democracy must be allowed to run its course.