Thai politics reaches boiling point once again

Thai politics reaches boiling point once again

The fiasco over the blanket amnesty bill push has unfortunately brought Thai politics to boiling point once again.

The mess over the contentious bill has ushered the ruling Pheu Thai Party into uncharted territory as public anger over the doomed bill has snowballed into a move to overthrow the Shinawatra clan from power.

This development reflects the fragile state of democracy in this country. Time and again, we have to face a crisis over our leaders' legitimacy _ or lack thereof.

With a confrontation looming between the opposing sides, Thais need to accept basic democratic principles and express their _ or accept other _ opinions in a democratic way. Violence from either side is not acceptable.

We should not be swayed by hate speeches from both sides of the conflict, echoed by certain media, but exercise our own rational thinking.

Yet what is going on points to the fact that this country is still far from achieving political reconciliation. The main protagonists involved in the conflict should step back to allow the country to heal.

I am talking about at least three people, though some might include certain extra-constitutional influential figures. The principal figures who are obstacles to shifting the country from "fighting mode" into "truce mode" are Pheu Thai Party de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva along with his ex-deputy Suthep Thaugsuban.

Moderate Thais _ and even some red-shirt sympathisers _ now wonder whether ousted leader Thaksin should leave politics while many are irritated at how Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep seem to have forgotten that nearly 100 people were killed and many more injured in the 2010 crackdown ordered by their government.

Leaders of the two sides owe an apology to Thais for dragging the country into this protracted crisis.

Interestingly, opinion leaders who regard themselves as "decent citizens" as well as peace advocates have been too numb and too scared to speak out for fear of being used by one side or the other.

Even if Thaksin simply wanted to test the power of his enemies by pushing so fervently for the blanket amnesty bill, the opposition against the bill must have gone far beyond whatever it was he had in mind.

His amnesty move has saddened the rank and file and pushed away several progressive elements inside the red-shirt movement as they saw the true colours of the ruling party.

The attempt to make a U-turn _ with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's emotional plea for the protesters to stop their rallies and her attempt to reclaim sympathy from the shattered and flabbergasted red-shirt masses _ hasn't worked.

The Democrats, who have allegedly played a behind the scenes role in several anti-government protests including those mounted by the rubber farmers, have seized this moment to take the lead, as the middle-class and city people have turned out in force in a series of protests to challenge the government.

However, the protesters' attempt to unseat the government has prompted breakaway red shirts to show their solidarity with Pheu Thai and its leaders. They are agitated by the Democrats' plan to set up a "people's court to prosecute Thaksin's corruption" without addressing the 2010 violence.

The situation is complicated by the International Court of Justice ruling on the Preah Vihear land case, which was unfolding as this article went to press. Ultra-royalists and ultra-nationalists are galvanised together along the same lines.

The same old ingredients are now laid out to legitimise a move to overthrow the erring government. Calls for military intervention have also been heard at the rallies.

But those who disagree with military coups and those with bitter memories of the Sept 19, 2006 coup and its consequences would not jump into such muddy terrain that would eventually benefit the government's political arch-rivals.

Some anti-government strategists might think they can follow the Oct 14, 1973, uprising's format by escalating their demands.

But the military is now taking a more passive stance, and cannot intervene as it did in previous times.

Some anti-Yingluck government protesters might also think they can forge ahead even at the risk of high casualties, in an attempt to depose the administration.

But some have learnt their lesson. In my opinion, the red-shirt gathering on Sunday was unlikely to lead to violence as it was just an act of solidarity.

They have learned from first-hand experience that their efforts to protect their own government could still be betrayed.

No one wants to enter a battlefield for others any more.

Ultimately, the mass protests against the blanket amnesty bill will come as a costly lesson for the ruling Pheu Thai Party and its leaders. Any further move to push their own interests will be challenged.

It's time Pheu Thai and its leaders learnt that only transparency and accountability can help win the public's support, particularly non-Pheu Thai supporters.

This is not a computer game in which they can simply change icons and win, no matter how high the casualties are.

Achara Ashayagachat is Senior News Reporter, Bangkok Post.

Achara Ashayagachat

Senior reporter on socio-political issues

Bangkok Post's senior reporter on socio-political issues.

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