Thais give new meaning to 'reconciliation'
When people want to reconcile, they talk. That is not happening in Thailand, despite all the fuss about forgiving, forgetting and bringing back political peace. Nobody is opening up or reaching out. Dirt is dug up everywhere, although it should be the least of our concerns.Here, "amnesty" has become a potentially explosive word greeted with contempt or fear of violence. Every announcement of an "amnesty" plan is never associated with genuine readiness to forgive or craving for truce. Whenever Thais hear about "amnesty" or "reconciliation", the nation's fragile peace looks threatened.
It was speculated that the amnesty issue would return to haunt Thailand after the Bangkok gubernatorial election if Pheu Thai won the poll convincingly. Yet although Pheu Thai suffered a stunning defeat, "amnesty" is trying to make its way back on the government's agenda anyway. Certainly, someone somewhere is getting increasingly restless.
Why is "amnesty" such a troublesome, potentially dangerous issue in Thailand? The answer is that it is always a one-sided advocacy. There has never been any mutual talk. Everyone has his own idea of how it should be done, and all the ideas clash with one another.
Without real dialogue, nothing can go forward. Every stumbling block on the road toward peace is highly tricky, and can never be overcome unilaterally - namely the issues of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Ratchaprasong crackdown and terrorism charges against red-shirt leaders. When intertwined issues are handled single-handedly, there can be only one end result - an inflation of mistrust, growing hatred and a burning sense of injustice.
Both sides of the national divide have been debating amnesty and reconciliation plans through the media. (Perhaps "scolding each other" sounds more accurate than "debating".) They have held separate public forums, sent articles to separate newspapers, and carried out separate surveys and studies. Everyone is shouting "reconciliation" from within his walls, never listening to what anybody else has to say about it.
Should we temporarily forget the lofty goal of everlasting peace and aim a bit lower? What about first trying to put the enemies in the same room? Certainly they will go for each other's throat, but at least the battleground will be smaller and the chance of forging something progressive may go from zero to slim.
Of course, an all-engaging reconciliation effort is much easier said than done. But it was the formula for resolving national strife elsewhere. No matter how complex the Thai crisis is, it comes down to the simple problem of two camps wanting different things. And it requires the simple first step of locating common ground. Even mutually, that will be hard to find, but it can never be found separately.
It beggars belief that talks with leaders of the southern insurgency have always been mooted, while our political rivals use their own TV stations to attack each other around the clock. And it's stranger still that one side of the national divide is bypassing the other in attempting to tackle the deep South issue, considering the former's lack of political support in southern Thailand, a region long dominated by the latter.
Maybe it's time someone picked up the phone and offered an olive branch. Every major national problem or lack of solution can be traced back to political polarity - sluggish telecom development, decreasing competitiveness, the southern insurgency. We can't wait for a mediator to show up, simply because there is no neutral figure who commands enough respect to do the job.
And we can't trust Parliament with the assignment, either. There are good reasons why amnesty should not be affected by a lopsided Parliament, the biggest being that "reconciliation" is not something that should be forged through numerical superiority.
Recently, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was accused by Thaksin's son, Panthongtae, of blocking peace efforts. That typified the Thai impasse. Reconciliation means different things to different people and, worse still, one usually considers "the other side's" reconciliation idea as destructive. In Thailand, political mistrust is a black hole around which many things have to revolve precariously. Mistrust leads to fear, and fear leads to hatred. This process is feeding on itself. To stand any chance of moving forward as one, we need to smash it. But first, it's probably best to put the people who matter in one room, lock the door and throw away the key.
It's up to the enemies to find common ground, to avoid reopening old wounds and to rehabilitate the real casualties of war - the Thai people. Reconciliation or amnesty is supposed to bring healing. Any scheme that leaves hatred to fester, fears to grow, or mistrust to spread is just malice all dressed up.