Non-extremists are reaching a consensus

opinion January 21, 2014 00:00

By Cod Satrusayang, SP Somtow

2,922 Viewed

The need for reconciliation among ordinary Thais has never been more pressing - each side must look inwards if it is to be achieved

On politics, the two authors of this piece have not always agreed with one another but there was always a mutual respect and a willingness to understand and listen. Sadly this does not seem to apply to society at large. It is a time of belligerence and self-advocacy, with people unable (or perhaps unwilling) to reach across the aisle. Thus in the true spirit of reconciliation the following article was penned with each author addressing his own perceived side. 
To those that support the current government:
There are many good reasons for the supporters of the current government to not listen. One can only be called uneducated, backward or traitor for so long before harbouring some sort of resentment. One can only be accused of having one’s vote manipulated or bought for so long before being disillusioned with the opposition and their ilk. But that would be wrong. While it would be easy and true to sit back and argue that you’ve won every election by a considerable margin since the year 2000, the situation has changed to the point where this no longer helps.
But it is worth reflecting that the first Thaksin government took office nearly 14 years ago now. That was a time before Facebook, before Twitter, when Osama Bin Laden was just a peripheral figure in the Middle East. He’s dead now and our democracy may be dead soon if neither side reaches across the aisle. But why should you make the first step? Why, when you’ve been called names, been accused of knowing too little? The reason to make the first step is simple. The high road is the noblest one and history looks kindly upon those willing to forgive with compassion their most bitter enemy.
When Nelson Mandela was released after decades of imprisonment, his first acts were not measures of revenge but rapprochements of compassion. It is time for every side in our society to look inward and ask the hard questions not only of the opposition but themselves. Ask yourself if every side is being used as a tool?
Many red shirts died to get Mr Thaksin back into power and many more were injured. What has this government done except to leave a few reds rotting in jail and attempt to pardon those that shot and maimed their comrades? Does it not unsettle you that the leadership found it so easy to toss away a few lives to server its aim? Remember in 2010 when the government offered a compromise of a few months before dissolution and things looked like they were headed to a peaceful end, then the leadership including Thaksin Shinawatra threw it away through arrogance and impatience?
It is true that every side is corrupt, but it is time that we stop pointing fingers at the other side and take a long, hard look in the mirror. The inconvenient truth is that all sides are riddled with scandals and the time is ripe to break free from the cycle of corruption. The only way to break free from our political free-fall is to unite together to oppose those that lead us, for surely we have more in common with one another than with the multimillionaires who claim to represent the people.
For the red-shirt side that means it has to break free from the shackles of Khun Thaksin. While he might have brought good once upon a time to the lives of many, was it for the benefit of all or just an effective way of retaining power? Even the most hardened red must understand the divisiveness that he brings with him today. Elections in February will just lead to more of an impasse if there is no meaningful attempt to distance oneself from the tentacle-like reach of Khun Thakin’s political machine.
If it is true that he has awoken the political awareness of many Thais in society then the time is now to showcase true political understanding.
If you can get rid of Thaksin and his ministers who treat your vote (and lives) with such disregard, you may even find PRDC supporters crossing the aisle to embrace you and promote democracy. The reality of the situation is this, the PDRC may treat your voices and votes with disdain, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the current government and its backers care about your votes anymore than what it takes to hold onto power. Just ask the poor farmers asking for their rice back because the government defaulted on the rice scheme; ask the red shirts still rotting in jail; ask the dead of Rajprasong. Also remember that in the long run you have already won. The rural vote will never be disregarded again.
Democracy is here to stay and long may it be so.
Thaksin has served his purpose in Thai history. Use him as a tool that can now be discarded – and by extension, stop being used by him as a tool to stay in power. Respect the power of your vote.
– Cod Satrusayang
To those that support the opposition:
Red-leaning intellectuals like my co-author used to vilify me for using the sorts of epithets traditionally slung at the yellow shirts – “patronising”, “smug sense of entitlement”, and so on. I’ve always found it odd for people to assume that my political opinions are genetically programmed, but since my mother, sister and niece are all at the protest rallies – my niece is even speaking there this evening – such prejudice is perhaps understandable.
But, as time goes by, I find myself more and more in agreement with him on more and more issues, and I think that most thinking, fair-minded people in this country, whichever side of the political divide they may have been associated with in the past, are gradually coming to a consensus. This consensus, alas, is one that neither the pro- nor the anti-government extremists want to hear.
My advice today is addressed to the leaders of those who are now protesting in the streets.
There is a fairly good chance that you will “win” this struggle – if by winning you mean the removal, for a time, of the Thaksin influence from Thailand’s politics. A resolution will come about one way or another. It is a plausible outcome that the near future at least may be a Thaksin-free one.
Winning the war, however, would be a piece of cake compared to winning the peace.
The people you believe to be your enemies have managed to put a very powerful myth in place: the myth of the simple peasant fighting an oppressive elite for the simple right to be free. 
Instead of countering this myth with an equally powerful one, you have tried to overwhelm the international media with corrective facts. You have also created some myths of your own which you need to re-examine thoroughly. You have manufactured these myths in order to create powerful rallying cries, but if you actually get your way and win this skirmish, you are going to have to put these myths aside and look at the underlying realities. Or, like the organisers of the 2009 coup, you will arrive as saviours, and leave as idiots.
Let us look at some of these myths:
“This is a struggle of good against evil.”  Sorry, guys, that one only works in Bibles and comic books. There are no angels here, and no demons. There are only people with agendas.
“Eliminating Thaksin will eliminate the ills of Thai society.” I’m afraid those ills probably have deeper roots. I personally believe that the psychological effect of turning the country from Siam, a multi-ethnic, diverse kingdom of loosely federated, self-governing regions, into Thailand, a highly centralised ethnocracy in which the only ones not second-class citizens are the Thais, was probably where much of this started. Changing us back into decentralised Siam, and reconnecting us with our thousand-year past, might give us a more balanced perspective.  
“The poor are too stupid to vote.” This one will never fly. Lack of education and money does not translate into stupidity nor does it deprive anyone of any rights.
“It’s all about corruption.” No. Every government in Thailand has been corrupt. Thaksin merely broke the gentlemen’s agreement about how corrupt you are allowed to be. Stop shouting “corruption” at the foreign press; that makes you into a laughingstock. What will play to the international media is ethnic cleansing (the Tak Bai massacre), the erosion of press freedoms, and killing people without a trial (the so-called drug war and the “disappearance” of dissidents). These are shocking crimes that have been all but overlooked.
To win the peace, you need to accept the reality that most people in this country have cast their votes on the other side. You must stop these childish sour grapes, stop saying all their votes were bought – you would have bought them if you could! – and roll up your sleeves and start convincing the people who voted against you that you would be better for them. There are many chinks in their armour.  Many have just realised that the rice-pledging scheme was not really designed to benefit them. Many have concluded that the Shinawatras no longer serve their agenda. Think about what you did to alienate them, and start trying to get them back.
Just as the pro-government forces must accept the reality that they will never be able to govern as long as they are being manipulated by the Shinawatras, so you must accept that you will never be able to govern without reaching across and trying to understand what it is the people on the other side really want. 
I think you will discover that most of them want the same things you want: fairness, freedom and unselfish governance. I think you will see that you have a great deal more in common than you thought. “Loving thy enemy” may be a hard pill to swallow. But if you really want to be the messiah, the crucifixion is in the contract.
– SP Somtow
Cod Satrusayang is a writer and researcher based in Bangkok. His works have appeared in a myriad of publications at home and abroad. SP Somtow is a novelist and composer whose works have been widely disseminated throughout the world. He is the artistic director of Opera Siam.