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Snap election without reconciliation won't resolve crisis

Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures, vision and sacrifice.

These are indeed demanding times for Thai politics. Premier Yingluck Shinawatra, by dissolving Parliament to call a snap election, was only beating a retreat. The move wasn't supposed to solve the longstanding, deep-rooted conflict, which promises to rear its ugly head again once the election campaigns begin.

Yingluck sees this as a concession to demands made by protesters led by Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). But she is portraying the PDRC's demand that she step down from her role as caretaker prime minister as unreasonable, unfair and undemocratic. She claims that while she is adhering to the provisions of the Constitution, Suthep is taking things into his own hands.

Suthep, on the other hand, is citing articles 3 and 7 of the Constitution to demand that Yingluck and her Cabinet quit and make way for a "people's government". This is an extraordinary step, an unprecedented interpretation of charter provisions that has stirred a major controversy over the constitutionality of the protest movement.

But while Yingluck insists she has "heard" the protesters' demand for national reform, the dissolution of Parliament for voters to return to the polling booths is simply a gesture of "business as usual". She probably realises that the protesters expect her to come up with more substantial concessions, in terms of revising the ground rules to draw up a "national agenda", before entering into a new general election.

Both Yingluck and Suthep have to realise that the new "political awakening" of a large segment of the population that has taken to the streets isn't really about a choice between her and him. The clarion call is for some real action to put an end to corruption, cronyism and "money politics" - to clean up Thai politics, in other words.

Though Yingluck may be seen as Thaksin Shinawatra's "puppet", Suthep's background as a streetwise politician isn't all that impressive either, especially in his self-appointment as leader of an anti-corruption movement. The "masses" are demanding a new political scenario that will enable the best and the brightest to join the national debate to change Thailand in fundamental ways. Neither Thaksin's Pheu Thai Party nor Suthep's Democrat Party has been able to provide that kind of leadership so far.

Clearly, Suthep's highly questionable move to set up a "people's government" won't satisfy the protesters' demand for a "democratic and clean political landscape". But then, Yingluck's insistence on a new election to save her government and her party won't resolve the conflict. In fact, it is nothing more than a gimmick to buy time in the hope that the protest will fizzle out and Thaksin's Pheu Thai will return to power with a majority in the House.

This is precisely the scenario that has kept the massive anti-government protest alive. Fear and hatred of the "Thaksin regime" that had been simmering among a large number of Thais for years has finally been brought to the boil by a government-backed amnesty bill to pardon all parties, including those convicted of corruption.

It is therefore imperative that Yingluck come up with "extraordinary measures for extraordinary times" if she wants to resolve the crisis. She must accept the offers from various academic institutions and private groups to sit down with protest leaders and come up with a clear-cut political reform agenda that addresses the social ills that sparked this large-scale protest. And she must do it before the voting begins on February 2.

Each side in this stand-off has accused the other of violating the Constitution. And for politicians, the question of "constitutionality" is always a highly contentious one, especially with each side claiming to be "more democratic" than the other.

But the huge number of people taking to the streets demanding "change" are not talking about constitutionality. They want "democracy" that offers them and their children hope of a better life. They want a country in which money can't buy everything, and a political system, whatever the label, that doesn't allow the richest families to control the destiny of the rest of the population.

One can sympathise with Premier Yingluck in her pleas for understanding from the protesters. Yingluck said: "I have already made all the concessions possible. I have retreated as far as I can. I don't know how to retreat further."

One can also appreciate the emotional response from the prime minister when asked about demands by protesters that her family leave the country. She told reporters: "I am not without feelings. I have heard their calls. As for the one about my family, I am also Thai. Will there be no place for me here? Is this what is going to happen?"

Perhaps, in one of his quiet moments, Thaksin, closely monitoring the protesters' statements from somewhere near Thailand, might be struggling with the question: "Why is it that that so many Thais hate me?"

If the answer is: "Perhaps it's because I love democracy and they don't", then we still have a long way to go before reaching real reconciliation.


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