People of Thailand are 'crying for change'

People of Thailand are 'crying for change'

Allow me to borrow some of US President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign slogans on the theme of change. "Vote for Change", "Change We Can Believe In", "Our Time for Change", "It's about Time. It's about Change", "Stand for Change", or "Organise for Change".

Five years afterward and an ocean away in Thailand, the cries for "regime change" are getting louder and louder with each passing day among the anti-government protesters and protest leaders, although the word "change" is replaced with "reform".

The deafening cries and ear-shattering whistling against the blanket amnesty bill during the early days of the protest on Ratchadamnoen Avenue have now shifted to a new purpose _ the ouster of the Thaksin regime and national reform.

The protesters are clamouring for reform, although many of them only know that such reform must begin with the eradication of Thaksin's influence and domination of the Thai political landscape, government bureaucracy as well as the private sector. In other words, reform means the liberation of this country from Thaksin for a better Thailand.

For many of the protesters, their demands or aspirations have gone beyond the dissolution of the parliament followed by a snap election _ a possible option to defuse the political tension. Their rejection of this option is that this will bring back the Thaksin regime, and probably in an even stronger position as it is in full control of state mechanisms such as the police and local administration, which are likely to be mobilised to help in the election to ensure the Pheu Thai Party's victory.

Same for the other option _ the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. This seems an unlikely scenario for Thaksin who has made known his conviction that he cannot be a loser.

Even the protest leaders themselves have no idea of the full extent of the reform they wish. That, perhaps, is to be worked out later by academics.

But can this noble objective be achieved with non-violent means or so-called civil disobedience? I do not have the answer as sensible talks between the two opposing camps in this worst-ever political divide as suggested by academics or as recommended by the military seems to be out of the question. The question is, who can mediate the talks _ someone who is powerful or credible enough that both sides are ready to listen to and obey?

The mass protest yesterday that rally leader and former Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban predicted would draw as many as one million protesters represents the start of the movement for change or reform.

Several tens of thousands of southerners arrived in Bangkok by bus, train and private car over the weekend to join the symbolic mass gathering at the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. They were to join tens of thousands of Bangkokians already fired up with anger at or hatred of the Thaksin regime.

The planned march today as a show of escalated civil disobedience from Ratchadamnoen Avenue to 12 streets in Bangkok where most government agencies are located is meant to encourage government officials fed up with the regime's nepotism to join the protest.

This move will certainly cause traffic chaos in the areas, and that will have a chain effect on other areas of the city. So motorists are warned to look at traffic reports or tune in to Jor Sor 100 traffic radio before they leave home.

Will today's march lead to a tipping point in the quest for political change? If not, then what is next? I have no answer to either question, only to continue closely monitoring the situation.

On the other side of the divide, it appears that the government has resorted to the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) _ the red-shirt movement _ for help as a shield. A mass rally was called last night at the Rajamangala Stadium in Hua Mark.

I only hope that the two groups of protesters are kept separated from each other to avoid the risk of a confrontation.

Expatriates and foreign tourists who are not familiar with Thai politics may wonder what has happened to the peace-loving Thai people and this country. Many may ask why can't the anti-government protesters accept or recognise a democratically-elected government.

If they have spent enough time in this country and tried to understand Thai politics, they will find that Thai democracy has a different meaning to that in Western countries.

There are many things which are unique to this country such as the democratically elected prime minister, the entire cabinet and the parliament _ which includes more than half of the Senate _ are answerable to an exiled fugitive and not to the people as they are supposed to be, or as they have sworn under oath.

They will find out, too, that the parliament passed a blanket amnesty law to pave the way for the exiled fugitive to come home and, probably, to reclaim his ill-gotten 45 billion baht seized from him by the state; passed a Senate restructuring law so the Senate cannot function as a checks-and-balance system of the House, and passed the two trillion baht borrowing bill to give the Pheu Thai government a blank cheque to implement the infrastructure megaprojects freely and without parliamentary scrutiny.

It is the government that lied to the northeastern people that a high-speed train will link Bangkok with Nong Khai whereas, in fact, it will just reach Nakhon Ratchasima.

Or the southern route which will link Bangkok with Songkhla; it will end at Hua Hin. It is the same government which has never told the public all the truth about the rice-pledging scheme and its accumulated losses.

The list goes on.

If they know what is happening, those with a fair mind will perhaps understand why so many middle-class Thais are angry with this government and this parliament and are now "crying for change".

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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