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How long do we have to wait for a new awakening?

It took three years of vicious political chaos, carnage and assassinations before Tunisia and its leadership decided they had had enough of their country's darkest days. Last month, the ruling Islamist government reached an agreement with opposition parties to put a caretaker administration in charge until new elections could be held.

To allow for a new political beginning, prime minister Ali Laarayedh resigned. The resignation was a setback for his Islamist supporters, who were clamouring for him to lead the government into elections. But his departure was a necessary part of the negotiated agreement aimed at breaking the political deadlock.

Now, Tunisia is set to approve one of the most liberal constitutions in the Arab world.

In contrast, Egypt, Syria and Ukraine continue to experience deadlock between warring political factions and their supporters, with ordinary people suffering the violent consequences.

Heartbreakingly, Thailand is poised to follow in the footstep of Egypt, Syria and Ukraine.

Anybody who cares to look will find that our society, education and political systems have increasingly becoming rotten at the core. Corruption is widely accepted in everyday life. Like a cancer, it creeps through our national body, leaving in its wake a toxin that further weakens the health of the nation in every sector. The desire to rid the country of this destructive disease has prompted people from all walks of life to take to streets in numbers larger than at any other time in Thai political history. Such is the level of disgust with the brazen lies, self-serving political manoeuvres and wholesale venality that has been going on under our nose. Ordinary people decided to take action because there is no other means or willing authority to stop it. The rice-price pledging programme is but one case in point. The systematic and blatant corruption of schemes under the programme dwarf all other instances of public sector fraud in our history. Dr Ammar Siamwala, one of our most prominent economists and a man of few words, recently said he had never seen a worse case of across-the-board fraudulent practices than those operating under the rice-pledge programme.

Yet, no one has been arrested or put in jail.

The majority of the anti-government protesters have no ulterior motives, and only desire to put a stop to the runaway greed and corrupt practices personified by the Shinawatra family and its associates. To some, singling out the Shinawatras might seem unfair, because other public personalities have committed similar transgressions. However, the many high-profile and brazen actions undertaken by that family in recent years have put them fairly and squarely in the public's sights.

The protesters are neither against democracy nor voting, but they do not trust the government to hold a fair and transparent election, when its MPs are happy to hoodwink the public with acts such as pushing through an amnesty bill at 4am. Trust is a precious commodity, and difficult to win back once you lose it. People have taken to the streets to blow whistles because, despite being merely symbolic, it seems the only thing they can do to fight back. They want reform before an election, because they are tired of walking an electoral treadmill that is taking them nowhere on this democratic journey. Their goal may be quixotic, but they have the right to hope it is not.

Meanwhile, our government remains unyielding and defiant. Politicians not known for their upright character are taking turns to denounce the protests. The regime is standing firm and forging ahead with the election on February 2, even if it fails to produce a functioning government. With the opposition boycott, Pheu Thai Party will be left to mop up the votes. Plenty of "ghost ballots" will find their way into the ballot boxes. The greater number of votes Pheu Thai gets, the greater "legitimacy" it can claim on the world stage. Shame has no place in our political lexicon. And the international community, too languid to look beyond appearances, will continue to call the "elected" body "democratic".

The government is not afraid of a military coup. Should it happen, our dear leader would jump up and down with glee because it would be the military, not she, who is doing the dirty work of tearing up the 2007 Constitution that this government hates with a passion. A coup would draw international condemnation. A government in exile could then be set up, the red shirts would claim it their right to take up arms, and havoc would ensue.

At that juncture, with the Emergency Decree in place, violence would spread like mushrooms across our Land of Smiles. Simmering hostility between Thais would breed more enmity. The country would descend quickly into perdition. We would find ourselves in a new and horrifying place.

Many people disagree with the actions of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), and they have the perfect right to do so. The "Respect My Vote" movement comprises people who genuinely believe in the fundamental expression of democracy. They detest the rhetoric of hate, regardless of which side it comes from. Their point is well taken. But the situation in Thailand is such that hate speeches were being disseminated long before the PDRC rallies. Unless all begin to see the futility of them, they will get louder from all sides.

There is one fundamental difference between the government and the PDRC in the current conflicts. The government has legal authority, the PDRC does not. The latter can make lots of noise, and make life difficult for lots of people, but it cannot make any real change, not without the unthinkable butchery of innocent people. The government, on the other hand, has in its hand the authority to make meaningful compromise. It can follow the example of Tunisia - not the three years of carnage, but the willingness to bring peace to a violence-torn nation - by relinquishing its authority. It could usher in the peace process by extending a hand of compromise to the opposition, so honest negotiations can start. It can choose the high road or the low road. Let us pray that it takes the former. If it does so, hope would finally dawn for Thailand.


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