The stalled effort for national reconciliation has been kick-started once again as we enter what is supposed to be the last year of the coup-installe
But before rushing to consider what the best approach is to bring harmony, we need to pause and think again about whether the scheme will be helpful, and to whom, and perhaps whether we need it at all.
With a politically eventful 2016 behind us, everything seemed to be falling into place for the finale of undemocratic rule. The main focus of politics in the year ahead was to pass organic laws and organise the first election since 2011.
But the limelight suddenly shifted dramatically as chief coup-maker and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha unveiled a new scheme he said he had cooked up over the New Year holiday. Designed to finally achieve reform and reconciliation, the scheme has become a focal point for key government policies as well as news coverage.
However, given its scale and complexity, it has arrived on the scene rather late, with the regime set to step down in roughly a year’s time. So why is it being put forward now, just as we hit the final stretch of the political road map?
One interpretation is that the scheme is actually designed to champion the junta’s interests. In truth, however, it remains too early to tell what exactly the regime is trying to achieve with this late reform and reconciliation push. Will it be exploited to create conditions that will enable the authorities to justify postponement of an election? That question can’t be answered until the long process of opinion gathering and peace talks fully unfolds. And that could take months.
Another explanation is that the junta is simply trying to keep its promise of positive change and restoration of harmony before the transition back to civilian rule. Though a slew of committees and working groups had already been launched to serve that purpose, the elaborate structure of the new reform and reconciliation scheme could help facilitate and accelerate the process. According to this explanation, the scheme is solely aimed at serving the public interest.
But questions still remain over whether this latest push is what the public truly needs. Is it instead perhaps the case that we have become so haunted by political violence and conflict that we mistakenly believe harmonious coexistence can only be achieved through complex plans?
The words harmony and reconciliation have been repeated again and again over the past decade, taking on a tantalising but always elusive appeal. But if we pause to consider, perhaps everything just comes down to simple mutual toleration, respect for the law and justice.
If we lack those three keys, no amount of “agreements of truth” will ensure peace in society. Can we count on people to abide by such agreements when the country’s supreme law – the constitution – is constantly flouted and even torn up?