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No matter who 'wins', without reconciliation, Thailand will lose

We need an antidote to the hatred that's running deeper and deeper on both sides of the political divide

Anti-government protesters kicked off their ambitious campaign to shut down Bangkok on Monday, stepping up pressure on the Yingluck administration. Huge crowds turned up for the rallies, but the government appears to be standing firm. What happens next is anyone's guess. The only certainty after the protesters' bold move is that political tension has heightened.

Even before the People's Democratic Reform Committee moved the main protest site to the Pathumwan intersection in central Bangkok, the situation looked ominous for the government. The Pheu Thai Party is operating on hostile ground in the capital, which it will find difficult to govern if it retains power. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been forced to work from various bureaucratic offices rather than Government House.

While it is true that only a minority of voters live in Bangkok, their hostility towards the government is worsening and unlikely to improve no matter how the crisis ends. An administration that loses the ability to run the capital will struggle to cling to power.

Meanwhile the opposition has boycotted the February 2 election and the Election Commission itself says the poll is likely to fail since it will not produce enough MPs for Parliament to convene. Even if the poll does take place, the next Parliament would likely face legitimacy problems.

With the situation darkening, the commission suggested the election be postponed. The government is now looking into the legality of such a move. The poll had been the only - if not the best - solution for the government, but the situation is no longer so simple.

Both sides have reached a point from which they are unable to step back. The stakes could hardly be higher. Yingluck and her government must face the National Anti-Corruption Commission on questions over its rule, including the costly and controversial water-management and rice-pledging schemes.

Likewise, despite early proclamations of "victory", the other side cannot afford to back down. The leaders of the People's Democratic Reform Committee and the Students' and People's Network for Thailand's Reform are also facing court action. Suthep Thuagsuban has been charged with sedition and other crimes. He has said he will accept a jail term if he loses this political battle. Likewise, his opponent, Yingluck, has declared she will remain in power to protect a democracy that represents all voters.

At this juncture, no one knows how long the crisis might last or how it will end. The certainty is that the prolonged battle has further divided Thais, with hatred running deeper on both sides. Even if the end comes soon, reconciliation will doubtless be much further down the road. The "winners" will likely be left sleepless at night while the "losers" will go back to plotting revenge. Rules will be rewritten, erased and written all over again. The vicious cycle of Thailand's political history will keep churning.

No matter how this latest episode ends, we can only make progress by accepting two things. First, this will take a very long time to heal. Second, everyone must be sincere about reconciliation. Without sincerity, the road to reconciliation will remain closed.


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