Suthep and Jatuporn nowhere near backing down

opinion May 17, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

With firebrand politicians now leading the charge on both sides, chances of a compromise look slimmer than ever

The not-so-gracious exit of Yingluck Shinawatra has intensified the political spotlight on two men. Suthep Thaugsuban accuses Jatuporn Prompan of being a terrorist, and the latter accuses the former of being a mass murderer. Anyone who assumes that political peace is closer now should pause to consider the fact that these men are at the forefront of the ongoing showdown. Even if people around them or “above” them finally want peace or are simply tired of struggle, it doesn’t necessarily mean the two men will call it a day and go home.
At the hallowed Royal Plaza a few weeks ago, Suthep swore an oath that he would not relent until the “Thaksin system” was eradicated. Jatuporn has meanwhile vowed to shed blood in defence of democracy, and by “democracy” he means the Thaksin system. If chances of a compromise were slim before, the situation hasn’t changed much now.
Suthep’s threat at the Royal Plaza carried a strong message, and so did Jatuporn’s rise to the helm of the pro-government red-shirt movement. Jatuporn was the most important protest leader during the 2010 uprising, but after the Pheu Thai Party took power in 2011 he assumed a lower profile. His take-over of the red-shirt leadership from Thida Thavornseth several weeks ago served as a warning to enemies of Pheu Thai that the ruling party would not go down without a bloody fight.
The two sides have been taking turns staging mass rallies. Tension has risen since the day the Constitutional Court issued its ruling on the removal of Thawil Pliensri as head of the National Security Council. The ruling ousted Yingluck from office, and the Anti-Corruption Commission followed up with another blow by indicting her in connection with charges of corruption in the rice price-pledging scheme. The developments have turned the main focus of our political drama on Suthep and Jatuporn, whose next moves have everyone holding their breath.
Renewed tension is building against a backdrop of reported behind-the-scenes attempts by “senior figures”, including military leaders, to defuse the national crisis. But what can be accomplished now that both Suthep and Jatuporn are adamant they won’t budge? That these men are leading each side’s charge can only mean one of two things. Either both camps are going for broke, or they want to force a compromise from the other. Both theories only heighten pessimism about the future, though to different degrees.
The dire consequences of the two camps going for broke are obvious. The latter theory – that drastic measures are being employed to force a compromise – brings fear that the “point of no return” is falling farther and farther behind us. 
Mutual hatred is dangerously high, and more confrontation will only deepen the rift. The first theory foresees something bad happening really soon, but the second carries the prospect of a prolonged agony eating slowly into the national soul. Which is worse is not an easy question to answer.
Some reports suggest that Pheu Thai might accept a genuinely neutral figure as interim prime minister. From his rally stage Jatuporn has offered no clue he might be willing to compromise. On the other hand, even if Jatuporn does agree to accept a “neutral figure”, it doesn’t necessarily mean Suthep will play along. And, in the unlikely event that both men accept the same neutral figure, we will merely have taken a baby step towards a real settlement. The neutral prime minister would still have to oversee an acrimonious reform process for which proposals are extremely polarised.
Can reform take place under circumstances where hatred prevails and is being fed daily, while reason takes a back seat? That the people who matter keep avoiding this question is anything but cause for optimism.