Cool heads must prevail

Cool heads must prevail

The country lurched closer to the political abyss early Thursday when three anti-government protesters were gunned down and 21 others wounded in drive-by and grenade attacks amid war cries from both rival camps.

The deadly attacks were an apparent attempt to provoke revenge in the same manner. At 2.45am, men in a white pickup sprayed bullets into a line of protest guards at Kok Wua intersection. Five minutes later, nearby protesters at the Democracy Monument were hit by two M79 grenade rounds.

"When elephants collide, the grass under their feet is annihilated”, so the Thai saying goes, which aptly describes the fierce power struggle that has raised the death toll during the six-month campaign of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) to 28. All of them were ordinary people or foot soldiers of the rival camps.

Our deep condolences go to the families of the latest victims, Narayot Chanphet, 21, Somkhuan Nuankanai, 51 and an unidentified third man. Our strong condemnation to all parties involved in orchestrating the attacks, who are willing to see little people killed and the country torn apart in their own big power games.

As expected, the PDRC leadership has blamed the most recent attacks on the government and its red-shirt supporters, who in turn responded by blaming it on a "third hand" aiming to instigate violence and justify the PDRC’s call for military intervention.

The fury of the PDRC supporters is understandable. Most victims of the recent political violence have been on their side. The police and government’s consistent failure to apprehend the culprits has increased the protesters’ militancy and justified the ramping up of its campaign to install its own government.

We may not know who is behind the violent attacks, but the leadership on both fronts are already using the latest tragedy to ramp up their campaigns for a “final showdown”.

We know what will happen if the government insists on going ahead with an election when the PDRC is determined to stop it. We can also foresee nationwide unrest if the PDRC succeeds in forcing the government out.

In both scenarios, either side’s victory will entail more blood and deaths as the country sinks into its worst and most divisive political violence.

For anyone who still believes military intervention is the way out, they only need to look at the restive South to know what lies ahead. Though the colour-coded politics does not contain the ethnic elements of the southern insurgency, it is fuelled by similarly extremist ideologies and class discontent that will serve as powder kegs waiting to explode into protracted violence.

Thailand is at a critical juncture. Geographically, its strategic location in mainland Southeast Asia can propel the country into greater economic prosperity if it can just pull itself together to reform the education system and overhaul its logistics infrastructure. Yet it can easily sink into chaos and oblivion if it allows itself to be bogged down by self-destructive politics.

The untimely deaths of Narayot, Somkhuan and an unidentified man should not be used to fan up more hatred and violence. Instead they should remind us that the casualties are always ordinary citizens caught up in the political plays of the powerful. Far too many people have died in this senseless political game, which has gone on far too long. By not answering the war cries and instead pressuring the rival parties to compromise, ordinary people have the power to stop the bloodbath ahead.

Forget military intervention. There is still time to come to our senses and bring Thailand back from the brink — before it is too late.

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