Army should stop with its pretentiousness and address real issues

opinion March 09, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Secession talk 'reckless' but people are angry

The Army is demanding legal action be taken against a small band of red shirt activists who floated the idea of a separate state with the capital in Chiang Mai. 
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha accused these activists of being separatists and accused them of committing treason.
The secession proposal from Wuthipong Kotthammakhun, aka “Ko Tee”, reflects an emotionally charged man. His feelings may have stemmed from the perceived unfair treatment of his fellow red shirts, many of whom are still being locked up while their yellow-shirt counterparts are freed on bail. 
But his proposal does not reflect the sentiment or the feeling of the residents in the North and Northeast. 
Regardless of how reckless or shallow the suggestion was, we should not lose sight of the fact that his was just an idea. At least the issue that he raised helped remind us that part of the problem of this country’s governance is that it is heavily centralised. 
Unfortunately, the issue of decentralisation as a solution to the current crises - including the separatist insurgency in the Muslim majority South – does not get the attention it deserves. 
We pay lip service to the need for checks and balances but at this juncture, many activists and protesters on both sides of the political divide don’t really care what’s right or wrong, legal or illegal, just or unjust. It pretty much comes down to what side you’re on and it’s all or nothing.
The Army, whose image took a beating from the May 2010 killings that resulted in the death of at least 90 red shirts, has been working hard to reinvent itself and that explains why it is going after a handful of red shirt activists with all their might.
They want to be seen as an honest broker and thus, the saviour of the nation. 
But going after a handful of red shirt activists who floated a half-baked idea that has yet to generate any traction won’t redeem the military from their role in the May 2010 bloody crackdown.
Perhaps the country’s recent experience with secession could teach us a thing or two. The actions of Haji Sulong Toemeena, the spiritual leader of the Malay-speaking region in the deep South, has become part of the grand narrative that justifies the current wave of insurgency that as so far claimed about 6,000 lives since January 2004. Haji Sulong was just trying to come up with ways for the Malays and the Thai state to live together peacefully. 
And then there was the student-led pro-democracy movement in 1976, a brutal event that drove thousands into the jungle – people who would not have done so if they were given adequate space and a forum to make their voices heard. 
If the Army wants to help the current situation, it needs to think about upholding professionalism and duty.
No one knows how long the current political crisis will remain with us. But until it is over, the Army will remain a stakeholder because of its role in ousting Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. So let’s not pretend otherwise. 
But this is not to say that Thaksin is an angel. The tycoon is self-centred, ambitious and doesn’t seem to care if the entire nation goes down with him. 
The recent attempt to drive through the amnesty bill that would clear him of any wrongdoing was an illustration of the Yingluck’s government true colour and key purpose. But instead of telling the reds “I told you so”, perhaps it’s time for others to reach out to one another and look for ways out of this mess.
Pretentiousness from the Army, or anybody for that matter, doesn’t help the situation.