Let's rouse true national conscience tomorrow

opinion February 01, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

2,208 Viewed

Whether you are for or against the election, we all a share common duty in preventing violence

Thailand has probably gone beyond the debate on the right to vote or not to vote. In other words, arguing about it now in the face of a looming crisis is not going to help anybody. What is of utmost importance tomorrow – when some of us are determined to try and solve national problems at the ballot box while others look on with great contempt – is that everyone must do his or her very best to prevent violence.
Sunday has yet to happen. There are a few hours left for warring parties to realise that violence will do no one any good. For all their ideological differences, all Thais should at least share one common value. And that value is that all power plays should have their limit. No matter how far they go or plan to go, no one should get killed or hurt.
Polling stations will be blocked. Confrontations will occur. Security forces will be deployed. The threats of violence are very real. Any remaining doubts about that disappeared during the advanced ballot a week ago, when chaos reigned and a protest leader was murdered in broad daylight. You don’t need to be an expert to know that last Sunday was a prelude to something potentially far worse.
Constitutional and legal punishment prescribed for people who fail to cast their vote in elections means that it’s each citizen’s duty to go to the polls. Anti-government protesters, citing the government’s own “lack of respect” for the Constitution, are boycotting this election. That’s their right, but they must not obstruct people who think otherwise. They must not cause harm to people who want to cast their ballots.
And the same goes for the other side. Protests against elections are controversial, to say the least, but there are also limits to observe when dealing with them. Last week’s murder of Suthin Taratin, who was campaigning against voting at Wat Sri-iam, crossed the line. Regardless of whether Suthin was breaking the law or obstructing voters’ rights, what happened to him is unjustifiable.
Some would say we can’t have it both ways, that we should either renounce the election or wholeheartedly support it. But the point is that renouncing the election or condemning the protesters is not going to help now. Thailand, already embroiled in a major crisis, is rolling toward even more dangerous territory. The only way to prevent the worst-case scenario is for everyone to realise how important it is to avoid violence this weekend.
It won’t be over soon, violence or no violence. There are too many legal and political landmines down the road, even if the election miraculously brings about a new government. Results will be bitterly challenged or protested and there might be grounds for the poll to be nullified. But if Thailand gets through tomorrow without bloodshed, it might just be a tiny glimmer of hope. Violence, on the other hand, will trap us in a very bad situation for a very long time. 
We have seen it before and we are in danger of seeing it again. Violence feeds on itself, meaning one “small” incident can lead to a bigger one, and so on. We have a few hours before tomorrow comes to wake up that national conscience which has been asleep for much too long. That conscience is called compassion, and it wears no colours.