The Nation


stoppage time

My person of the year: the stranger in the mirror

People say Suthep Thaugsuban is crazy, but didn't Thaksin Shinawatra himself state that if Thailand was to be reset to zero, the resetter would have to go "all the way"? Well, that's happening, though not in a way Thaksin will like.

To many, Suthep is the Man of the Year, hands down. As someone who - love him or hate him - spearheaded an uprising of hundreds of thousands credited with the demise of a House-approved piece of legislation, then with a House dissolution, and then an election boycott, he probably deserves it. But Suthep - whether he is foolishly suicidal, or fascist, or nobly stubborn - was just one part of an extraordinary juxtaposition that culminated in 2013, comprising both weaknesses and strengths of Thailand.

Two years ago, the "Good in Us" was named The Nation's "Person of the Year". When the spirit of giving, sharing, volunteering and self-sacrifice rose in response to the flood catastrophe, politics faded. It's always good when political ideologies take a back seat, but, unfortunately, that doesn't occur very often.

This year has been the polar opposite of 2011. Sporadic flooding was ignored by a government too busy with its conspicuous political agenda, and by opponents too busy fighting it, and in a no less controversial manner. Politics is back with a vengeance. The nation has never been more divided. A country at war with itself has teetered on the brink, and a peaceful, practical solution acceptable to all sides is nowhere in sight.

We are where we are because of the "Stranger in the Mirror", who can be exceptionally good one day and particularly bad on another. The person we see in the reflection can be both creative and destructive, protective and recklessly dismissive, peace-loving and belligerent.

We shall leave the "strengths" alone. After all, our deeply divided nation is not even sure what they are. Are they the forces that brought massive crowds of whistle-blowers onto the streets to kill a highly controversial bill rushed through the lower House with a questionable use of the election mandate? Or are they the forces that are trying to protect the Yingluck government against an "undemocratic" conspiracy which is seeking to exploit the amnesty bill "slip"?

Let's focus on the weaknesses. Again, we the polarised people are already threatening to tear this country apart arguing what they are. But at least the failure to agree on the weaknesses is a major weakness in itself. Thailand's problem is we can't agree on what's bad. That's probably due to what we call "free will". But it also stops us from moving forward with a common purpose.

And failing to agree on what's bad is one thing, but applying double standards in the debate is quite another. Is blocking traffic for days or weeks good or bad? Are aggressive protest measures good or bad? Is harassing family members of political targets the right thing to do? Is it all right for the authorities to go after "financiers" of political protests?

The list of questions goes on and on. The Constitution is being quoted by both sides. Nobody has been spared. The police. The military. The mass media. Like they say, one man's traitor is another man's freedom fighter. That's a romantic way to look at it. A brutal analysis is that everyone can be a hypocrite.

Thais' biggest weakness is the inability to foster a common value that transcends the "colours". On a Nation Channel recently, one academic suggested that Thais had been duped by political rivals into believing that they were cherishing different values. Take away the "colours", he said, and what Thais need as a nation becomes clear. We simply want a clean, accountable politics that respects the voices of the people. We want a system that can keep both corrupt politicians and military opportunists away from politics.

Political rivalry makes Thais think they want different things, while the truth is that they only support different men, who spice up the power play with ideologies. That explains the stomach-churning hypocrisy that we have seen in 2013. People want and do the same thing. It's only "bad" when it happens on the other side.

The curtain is being drawn on 2013 with a high degree of unpredictability. We can't attribute the suspense to the "Good in Us", simply because it would not have brought us here to begin with. We are heading into the unknown thanks to the worse half of the Stranger in the Mirror. We can be either hopeful or fearful, because the Stranger in the Mirror is erratic and unreliable, and he is far from finished.

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