We need to start loving one another again

opinion July 21, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Political propaganda has been so potent it has turned thai against Thai

Politics, more often than not, brings out the worst in us.  More so in Thailand, which has not had political peace for about a decade. That is to say what happened before the 2006 coup – street protests and the tumultuous share-concealment saga – was democratically “normal.”

       The current state of affairs is sad, because national harmony had always been the country’s strong suit. Political volatility was usually spoken of in total separation from how Thais really felt toward one another. We might have stormy politics, but the bottom line was Thais always loved Thais.

The “reform” promised by the National Council for Peace and Order must end the circle of cut-throat politics. When the stakes are big, everyone wants to win – and to hang on. And by trying to win and hang on, our politicians have resorted to the only tactic they know: they try to make Thais love them and hate their enemies’ guts.

While many things have failed in Thailand over the years, political propaganda has worked wonders. Thais have been bitterly divided. Many have come to love their politicians to the point of killing or dying for them.

It’s not going to be easy for those advocating reform. Bringing back “peace” is one thing; making Thais love and understand one another again is quite another.

Mistrust, fear and prejudice have been deep-rooted over the past few years. Much of the negative forces have been suppressed thanks to the military bunkers on the streets, but the current “peace” is fragile at best and deceptive at worst.

It doesn’t mean we mustn’t try, though. The characteristic harmony presented itself during the flood disaster almost three years ago but disappeared just as fast. Somewhere inside the national psyche exists love, understanding and sympathy. Those positive qualities have only been blurred by propaganda and extremism. Thais were made to look straight at their TV screens and assume what they saw was life’s true meaning.

They were made to forget to look at both sides. They were made to distance themselves from relatives who held different ideological beliefs. They were made to “unfriend” people supporting “the other side”.

Politics is like this everywhere, one may argue. That is true, but Thais this year were in danger of being totally consumed by it. Many people – those in the West in particular – have questioned the NCPO’s motives, but the truth is this: the threat of national strife deteriorating into something worse is real.

The reform process will be rocky. Proposed measures favoured by one side will be condemned by the other. Then a post-reform election – its prelude or aftermath – can easily reopen old wounds. Propaganda machines can work in full swing again, if politics remains all about making people love you and hate your enemies.

How can we make politics stop being a game of gaining love and spewing hatred? It goes back to the “stake” issue. When winning an election means not just “working for the country”, but also “getting what the country has to offer”, everyone wants to win at all costs.

The “losers” won’t let go and neither will the “winners”. The cut-throat nature of politics brings out the worst in everyone.

Can the reform stop that and make politics bring out the best in us? NCPO leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has not said “Yes” directly, but he has implied several times that if that hadn’t been his objective, the coup wouldn’t have had a point.

Many people remain unconvinced, obviously, and it’s up to him to prove them right or wrong.