No need for a shutdown
published : 13 Jan 2014 at 00:00
newspaper section: News
There is still plenty of time and political room for Suthep Thaugsuban to open up Thailand instead of shutting down Bangkok.
The truth is that the self-described People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has lost direction. From a focused, fired-up rally that demanded accountability for the government's dreadful amnesty bill among other actions, the PDRC today will act against millions of fellow citizens in the capital.
The aim to cause chaos and disorder already harms the goal of political reform. Worse, it risks life and economic losses without obvious results.
Mr Suthep and his whistle-blowers have claimed to have a plan to get Thailand to a point that the whole country desires.
But it is a deeply flawed plan. Even a month after it was presented by Mr Suthep, an ex-MP of the Democrat Party, the proposal is piecemeal and impossible to achieve.
It is not just incomplete, it also contains hugely anti-democratic principles that are troubling at best. The entire call for a year or more of this country under an unelected, unaccountable "council" is unacceptable.
That said, the PDRC has both its heart and its plan in the right place. The final goal of the street protests is pretty much shared by the entire country. It is to discuss and adopt strict, enforceable reforms for Thai politics. They would address and counter corruption, cronyism and opaque policies. They would make it more likely to have a government without institutional graft, and open to public questioning and examination.
Give Mr Suthep credit. Without his uprising and his tenacious perseverance, the reform movement would be nowhere important. Government, business leaders and important non-government groups have backed the PRDC's call for reform, but only after the street protests began to hit critical mass.
No one can seriously doubt the credit that the PDRC deserves here, any more than one can deny that lack of accountability over the ill-conceived amnesty bill energised the street protests.
And now it is time to put those hopes and aspirations into action. The plan to shut down Bangkok will not bring about reform. Cutting off street access, shutting thousands of small businesses and putting lives at risk _ none of these move reform closer. In recent days, Bangkok citizens who will be inconvenienced or worse have come out strongly against Mr Suthep and the PDRC.
The threat to shut down Bangkok has made divisions in society worse. If the PDRC goes ahead with its action today, it will further widen the gap.
Political reform by definition entails a national agenda. Neither parliament nor Mr Suthep's vaguely referenced council is capable of coming up with what is needed. Dictating measures downward never has worked, and cannot work now, Mr Suthep's idealism notwithstanding.
Reform measures must be debated throughout the country. They must then be sifted in a transparent manner. Finally, they must be adopted and accepted by all _ probably by one referendum, or several.
With virtually all Thais already agreeing to his signature plan to institute political reform, Mr Suthep should stop his dangerous protests. Talks on how to proceed from here are necessary.
Bangkok does not want yet another siege. This shutdown is so unnecessary. Mr Suthep has achieved a national consensus that reform is both desirable and achievable. All that is necessary at this point is a peaceful political atmosphere so we can all move ahead.