Let's face it, reconciliation isn't working

Let's face it, reconciliation isn't working

It's about time to admit that the current attempt to require people in the nation to "forgive" and "reconcile" with one another by law is doomed to fail.

For a start, none of us should have entertained the hope that a peace effort initiated by either the Pheu Thai Party or Democrat Party _ the two main political poles of the country's politics at the moment _ will be welcome by one or the other. Both parties are too deeply involved in past conflicts to come up with a truly liberated agenda.

While one side bellows "murderers", the other shouts "terrorists". It may be amusing, exasperating or sad to watch but it is foolish to believe these theatrics will lead us anywhere.

As I watched politicians arguing about how they couldn't reconcile with one another in the parliament last week, I kept thinking we have got the sequencing of this task all wrong. The legal side of this reconciliation business should be last on the list of things to do.

A law to grant an amnesty to people involved in these political conflicts should be considered only when reconciliation is no longer an issue _ when reconciliation has become a foregone conclusion and when a vision is clear about what kind of future society we want, how to move forward toward it and how to prevent violent conflicts from obstructing our progress towards that common goal again.

Last week, however, deputy prime minister Yongyuth Wichaidit said the government would go ahead and consider reconciliation proposals based on a report by King Prajadhipok's Institute (KPI) despite the institute's calls for it to create a "conducive atmosphere" and engage in "constructive dialogue" first.

A nationwide public consultation would be a "waste of time," he said.

The KPI's proposals include granting an amnesty for political wrongdoings after the Sept 19 coup and dropping corruption charges lodged by the now-dissolved Assets Scrutiny Committee against the former Thaksin Shinawatra administration.

The study has been described as "controversial" partly because it dares to suggest an amnesty be considered as a measure to resolve past conflicts and deep resentment.

After going through it, however, I don't think the KPI report is that controversial. Indeed, it goes over all the usual grounds of peace-building _ what needs to be done before forgiveness can be granted and people engaged in conflicts can move on and coexist civilly.

I believe people will have to come to terms with the fact that at one point, some kind of legal mechanisms must be worked out to unlock the still conflicted past and allow people to move forward. If the Sept 19 coup makers could enact a law that pardoned itself for killing democracy, a similar mechanism must be possible for people who view themselves as victims of the putsch.

Should the government instigate the amnesty move? I don't think so. In this context, I agree with the KPI's report that a form of dialogue _ a nationwide debate on the institute's study and proposals _ be organised first that will help people, both victims of the conflicts and the public at large, understand the nature of the conflicts and develop a more common goal towards the future.

As the KPI researchers noted in its report, national reconciliation can't be made to happen by a majority of votes in parliament. It can only be achieved by consensus. A series of public consultations for many might sound like a tedious and sluggish process, especially compared to a cabinet's resolution or a passage of a reconciliation law through the parliament. But if it can help us build a long-lasting peace, shouldn't we invest our time in pursuing it?

One thing the KPI researchers noted is an underlying cause of the past political conflicts lies in how people view and interpret democracy differently. While one side emphasises legitimacy through an election, the other believes democratic leadership still needs to rest on honesty and traditional virtues.

I don't think we have tried to address this conflict over the idea of democracy. If the government decides to press ahead and enact a blanket or partial amnesty act now, we will have a possibly sharper conflict over the idea of reconciliation. Will it escalate into "a war of reconciliation" as warned by the KPI? Well, who will want to risk it?

Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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