Drums of war imperil 'good people's rally'

Drums of war imperil 'good people's rally'

One of my best friends works in an office building next to Lumpini Park, where a hard-core anti-Thaksin Shinawatra group staged a protest for several months with little public support.

My friend detests Thaksin. But she said she just could not swallow the group's right-wing, ultra-nationalistic tirades against neighbouring countries. Its offensive ultra-royalist rhetoric was also hurting, not helping, the monarchy. "Extremely inappropriate," she said.

On Monday, she was on the streets with hundreds of thousands of protesters in one of the country's biggest political rallies to say they have had enough of the crass winner-take-all politics of the Thaksin/Yingluck government. Shouting the "Thaksin Get Out" message along with her was that same right-wing group she had said were a bunch of crazy people.

I share her anger with the so-called Thaksin regime. Here's a government which is not shy about breaking ethical standards or using majority rule to do whatever it wants despite the public outcry. The environmentally destructive water management programme, the corruption-plagued rice-pledging scheme, the blanket amnesty bill, you name it.

I also feel annoyed with the foreign media, which condemned the majoritarianism of the Morsi government in Egypt because of its support for Islamism, yet refuses to see that it is the same anger against the majoritarianism of the Pheu Thai government that has pushed people onto the streets here.

My friend is not against democracy. She is against the abuse of majority rule by the government. She saw it necessary to be in the rally on Monday to tell the government that it must stop its ugly ways. I'm sure she was not alone.

It's this "people's power", not protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and Co, that has forced the government to dissolve the House for a fresh general election within 60 days.

Yet my worst fear is that when people like my friend return to their normal lives and leave political matters in the hands of the likes of Mr Suthep and other right-wing groups, then our country could slide into another round of political violence.

Yes, Thailand is in dire need of reform. The country needs to decentralise, which will also ease the southern violence. And without police reform, any efforts to effect justice and get rid of corruption are fruitless. Why am I still fearful of Mr Suthep's reform proposals and vision for Thailand?

For starters, Mr Suthep makes it sound as if the only way to effect reform is through throwing democracy away. Also, the methods he has said he would use to bring about change are despotic and scary.

If you watched him announcing his "people's coup" on Monday night, you will understand what I mean. His military-coup-like statement; his intimidation of government officials to take sides with him, or his green light for his supporters to organise "security volunteers" when the police can still not be trusted.

This doesn't look good at all.

Later that night, Mr Suthep emerged again to angrily issue an ultimatum for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's resignation within 24 hours without appointing a caretaker so a new PM could be installed.

He also extended the deadline, yet again, for three more days.

Watching him shouting at the top of his voice, raving, eyes glowering, I couldn't help feeling sorry for the country. On one side is a power-hungry government that has lost its sense of decency. On the other side is a power-hungry rebel leader who seems to have lost his mind.

How to break the deadlock? Mr Suthep declared that the appointment of a politically neutral person is acceptable. Some academics have also suggested that the people's council could take the form of an elected charter drafting assembly that led to the 1997 constitution.

These ideas worked in the past because society could still form a political consensus. That is no longer the case given the fierce political divide and the prevailing politics of hatred.

Jatuporn Prompan, a core leader of the red-shirt movement, has already issued threats to mobilise more people than the Monday rally to protect the Yingluck government.

I can hear the beating of war drums.

Given the vast political divide, both the government and Mr Suthep must realise that any political proposals they make must be acceptable to the other side. Otherwise, I fear the jubilation seen on Monday will be short-lived.

What started as the rally of "good people" with good intentions to reform politics may go awry and end with another sad episode we will later regret.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor. She writes on human rights, gender, and Thai Buddhism.

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