Mistrust between the protesters and the police is soaring
The political crisis has become extremely dangerous not only because the hatred is feeding off itself, but also because law-enforcement officers are seen as biased in favour of the government. Whether the police are intentionally partisan or are being pushed into a corner is debatable, but that doesn’t matter much now. The country is in serious trouble because, increasingly, anti-government protesters and the police are failing to see eye to eye.
In 2010 the police were accused of dragging their feet as the Democrat government struggled to contain the red shirts’ revolt. This time the police have been accused of being tools of the Pheu Thai government. The demonstrators have besieged key police headquarters several times, and outbreaks of violence have seen police firing tear gas and protesters hurling stones.
The situation is increasingly worrisome. The rift between a large section of society and the police is threatening to widen.
A demonstration by police recently confirmed their frustration, but they cannot blame it all on the anti-government protesters. Bangkok Police Chief Kamronwit Thoopkrajang showed off Thaksin Shinawatra’s photo in his office. His admiration of Thaksin is well publicised, not least because he wants it to be.
The anti-government campaign has targeted the police as the main pillar of the “Thaksin system”. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has repeatedly said that, when he achieves victory, among the first items on the agenda would be a thorough reform of the police force. Suthep’s threat no doubt strikes fear into the police. All of a sudden, the force’s political stake in the crisis is firmly attached to who wins and who loses this showdown.
In fact, the stakes are getting higher and higher on both sides. The contrast with previous political crises is stark. This time, many more people have everything to gain from victory – and everything to lose from defeat. However, it is wrong for those who enforce the law to have any stake at all. Their duty demands that they remain completely neutral.
If the hatred of opposing “colours” is the most worrisome concern, the rift between the police and the protesters must come a close second. And it will be as hard to fix as the divide between people of different ideologies. To add to the complex situation between people on the streets and people in uniform, the red shirts and soldiers have yet to get over the Rajprasong bloodshed in 2010.
The worst-case scenario is that armed men weigh in on each side of the conflict. It was taboo to even mention that possibility a few months ago, but Thailand will edge toward that frightening territory if the political strife drags on. The sense of togetherness that has seen the nation through various crises is facing another great test. And we will only pass it by coming to a genuine realisation of the values of unity. In other words, “unity” must be more than just a slogan.
Healing will be a long process, even if it begins soon. The imperative to “serve and protect” is being drowned out by rallying cries from both sides of the conflict. As the crisis snowballs, a solution seems remote. But everyone must try. In a country split divided down the middle, with mistrust between law enforcers and one side soaring, the hour could become “too late” very quickly.