Let's chase politics back to where it belongs

opinion February 26, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

The corruption and power play at the heart of the crisis has now cost the lives of four children; we need collective action by ordinary voters to prevent such horrific violence

Thais are experiencing a collective wave of shock and grief after children became the latest victims of political violence at the weekend. Gunfire and grenade attacks in Trat and in central Bangkok claimed four young lives. None were at political rallies but died because they happened to be at target spots.
This is not the first time innocent lives have been lost to the crisis, but it is especially heartbreaking that young children were killed. However, many doubt that these horrifying acts will be the last of this political war.
Who should we blame for such senseless and inhumane killing? Fingers are pointing at both parties, accompanied by demands that the government or the protest leaders take responsibility. Unicef delivered an urgent warning to keep children away from protest sites. But will any of this help solve the problem? The victims were oblivious to any protest. One of the two five-year-old victims in Trat was washing dishes at their grandmother’s stall when the attack occurred, while the four-year-old boy and his six-year-old sister were out shopping with their aunt in Bangkok. 
We can point the finger at law enforcers too. Police should bear a good deal of the responsibility, after their failure to capture those responsible for attacks since the four-month anti-government protest began. Apparently, no progress has been made in investigations of violence at Ramkhamhaeng over three months ago, the clash at Din Daeng over a month ago, the bomb attack at Banthadthong over a month ago, explosions at Victory Monument a month ago, the murder at Wat Sri-Iam during advance voting for the February 2 election, the clash at Lak Si and the recent incidents in Bangkok. During a political crisis it seems anyone can instigate violence without fear of prosecution. Officials at the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order said yesterday the situation would get worse and lead to a civil war. This is a damning indictment of the centre’s own failure to stem the violence in the first place.
The blame game will go on and on. But should the nation tolerate such violence, accepting it with a heavy heart as the only means toward political change? If we do become “familiarised” with political violence in this way, we lose any claim to a deeper humanity.  
It has become a tradition in modern Thai history: a bloodbath brings change. The May uprising of 1992 led to the resignation of Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon. The prolonged and often violent People’s Alliance for Democracy campaign against Thaksin Shinawatra ended up with a military coup in 2006. 
Our power struggles repeat the same vicious cycle. The blood of innocent people is shed, and the power shifts. We need to think hard about this phenomenon. Why must the lives of people including young children be sacrificed just to oust a government? Why can’t we rid ourselves of bad leaders in a peaceful and legal manner?
Politics must be confined to its proper place. Politicians should do their fighting in Parliament. The public as well as those in power must make a concerted effort to change mindsets over this issue. Parliament should be an honourable institution that people can look up to with trust, with no place for corrupt politicians. If the Yingluck administration’s rice-pledging scheme is corrupt, that should be reason enough to bring down the government. Politicians must be held accountable to earn the trust of the people.
Right now, an effective checks-and-balances system coupled with politicians who have integrity looks like a far-fetched dream for Thailand. But the power to change things lies with us voters, who must stop re-electing graft-tainted politicians. This is the only way to tackle the problem at its root. Once in Parliament, bad politicians can survive any no-censure debate if they enjoy majority support. So let’s prevent them from getting there in the first place. 
Only by such collective action on the part of ordinary citizens will we be able to chase politics back to where it belongs and prevent corruption feeding a power play that spills into horrific violence on our streets.