Cool heads must prevail
The country will likely see its biggest rally in three decades on Saturday, amid fears the state will use violence to crush young people's calls for democracy and freedom of expression. The government must prove this fear wrong.
One thing is clear: One wrong step could break the Prayut Chan-o-cha government and batter the country's economy, which could not survive a fresh political upheaval on top of the Covid-19 crisis.
Up until early this year, no one thought anyone could challenge the military-sponsored government and the political power system. Then, a string of youth-led protests erupted in various parts of the country. The protests also engulfed high school students nationwide, calling for an end of school authoritarianism.
Amid deep political divisions, the students are accused of being the pawns of anti-government politicians who are backed by foreign elements. Threats, intimidation and arrests followed, only stirring up more defiance among the students.
The clash of beliefs between the youth movement and pro-government conservatives is often described as a political generation gap. This is only partly true.
When the students' mass rally on July 18 at Democracy Monument called for a new constitution, the dissolution of parliament and an end to the government's political harassment, their demands were met with rousing public support.
Evidently, not only the young people want societal change. The past six years under military dominance have seen endless corruption scandals and blatant efforts to protect wrongdoers. Justice is routinely bent to serve the rich and powerful.
Backed by military might, officialdom pens laws to empower itself further while pushing for environmentally destructive projects to serve big business. Meanwhile, the hardship on the ground is intensifying amid a flagging economy and state inefficiency. Thailand has become one of the world's most unequal countries in terms of wealth distribution. The pandemic has further exposed this gross disparity and the broken state mechanisms, making the situation intolerable for many Thais.
The students are taking matters into their own hands for a simple reason. They can no longer tolerate seeing the country slide into the autocratic rule of the past, unable to compete in today's fast-moving world. They want their future back.
The controversy lies with their call for the reform of the constitutional monarchy. Immediately, it was blasted as blasphemy, an effort to bring an end to the highest institution. Arrests ensued. With obvious state support, groups challenging the student movement sprang up. Coup rumours spread. Thammasat University refused the students' request to rally at its Tha Prachan campus, effectively pushing them onto the streets.
As the fear of violence intensifies, the student movement has been blamed for igniting the rallies. This blame is misplaced. Learn from history. Violence comes from a government wielding guns and bombs, not people calling for what citizens are entitled to: an open, democratic society with justice and the rule of law.
The powers-that-be like to view the country as one big family, so as the family leader, the government has a responsibility to keep the peace. It must not take sides and abuse power to silence grievances, and it must stop throwing fuel onto the fire.
This is the time for the government to exercise maturity, empathy and patience. Cool heads must prevail to maintain peace and allow the young people to have their say on how to regain their futures.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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