Time to embrace best practices for reconciliation
Let's be blunt. The powers-that-be must display the highest level of political commitment to attain national reconciliation. That should be the mantra of the day. At this juncture, to instil the much needed public trust and confidence, the ruling party, the Pheu Thai Party, must declare the various steps it is taking to clear up any lingering doubts of its intentions.Instead of coming up with different draft amnesty bills, as it is trying to do now, it must look back and build on past efforts. Since there was a pretty good and balanced investigation of April/May 2010 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) under the leadership of Kanit Na Nakhorn last year, it would be wise for the government and lawmakers to seriously embrace this report and use it as a basis to establish additional findings that can shed further light on more obscure cases.
Second, equally pivotal is that the government must urge all stakeholders to come forward and ensure they receive fair hearings, whatever the pains and gains. This is the time to set records straight for all concerned Thais for their past, present and future. This opportune time would allow us to come to terms with our monstrous selves which we dare not face. To heal hearts and minds, the society, especially the conflicting parties, must be encouraged to speak out until we reach a point that all differences can be considered. Believe it or not, after all these years, we have not reached that point where a willingness to overcome all sorts of contradictions can come forward.
The draft reconciliation bills, both in and outside the Parliament, are a good example of how cowardly the lawmakers, and ourselves, both as citizens and a nation, have become. Despite whatever transpired in our society for all to see, we still do not have the courage to face new realities. We are in denial and allow the lawmakers to come up with so many drafts with hidden poison. These drafts, in more ways than one, have epitomized the illness our society, playing hide and seek with public sentiment. They provide a leeway for perpetrators not to tell what they know in a straightforward manner. As such, how can truth be established? Without acknowledgement of wrongdoings, how can forgiveness be given? In other cultures, truth seekers and informants are national heroes, including whistle blowers.
Our DNA prefers instantaneous results--good or bad—which do not matter much in these days of public psychology. With such perception, the draft bills do not pay attention to the time consuming and proper process of reaching national reconciliation. The Pheu Thai Party, which often laments that its followers are victims of political oppression and injustice, has not yet come forward in a transparent manner by telling what they know. Instead, it indulges itself in the majority votes it enjoys in the Parliament and concocts new props and intermittent media relations campaigns to confuse the public and tarnish their minds.
As with the TRCT's painstaking work, the stakeholders were willing to cooperate if they knew they would receive fair treatment. It is imperative that the Pheu Thai Party has to be non-partisan in both words and deeds. As of today, the ruling party and various factions are not on the same page. This trend, if it persists, will cause irreparable damage to the country and national reconciliation will remain elusive.
Thailand has enjoyed strong and independent civil society groups, even though some are embroiled in political intrigue of the days. In general, they have helped to establish the narratives and the search for truth that could heal the division and unite the nation. But in order to do so, civil society groups must also speak out without fear. Before South Korea, South Africa, Chile or Morocco were able to reach proper closure on their horrible pasts, their citizens, evil-doers and victims, came face to face and told their side of the stories. These were very painful undertakings but necessary steps for eventual healing. If our nation really wants a true reconciliation, we must not run away from this process allowing us to face the darkest corner of our souls.
The South Koreans did it. Their leaders admitted wrong-doings, were punished and subsequently jailed. In genuine reconciliation efforts, these leaders including former presidents, were given amnesty. Nobody could really have been forgiven, if the individuals or groups had never been identified or confessed. In South Africa, when the perpetrators faced victims and asked for forgiveness, a true sense of healing then occurred. To go through this painful process, time is an essential element. We must not rush through in the same way the ruling party is heading. Morocco took 17 years, Chile 16 years and South Korea ten years, to achieve national reconciliation. Somehow, we thought that through giving amnesty to all people, all past atrocities would be forgotten and political divides would end. That is a foolish thought.
The saddest part is the big missed opportunity for the Pheu Thai Party to make a difference. So far, it has not been able to create an atmosphere for the general public to have sufficient confidence to take part in facing ugly truths. All past efforts are akin to a three-ring circus performance -- creating a sense of awe and illusion, but not the effort to resolve political division as it claims to do.