It's harvesting time for political hatred in Thailand. If we can get through the current crisis and political confrontation without killings or a coup, that in itself would be an accomplishment and a sign of political maturity.
Both the Foreign Ministry as well as the Finance Ministry have been occupied by protesters, while Yingluck Shinawatra extended the imposition of the Internal Security Act to all of Bangkok and parts of its vicinity. Bangkok-based German photojournalist Nick Nostitz was also attacked on Monday by anti-government demonstrators because he was believed to be a red shirt.
Given the country’s long track record of political violence and military coups, the current prospect is not good. The last time a coup occurred, in 2006, coup makers claimed they had to intervene in order to prevent imminent bloody confrontation. The coup makers, known as the Council for National Security, also cited Thaksin Shinawatra’s corruption and abuse of power along with the “de rigueur” additional justifications of protecting the monarchy, which was used throughout the 18 “successful” coups over the past eight decades.
In one important regard, political hatred is worse than in 2006. Hate politics has grown on both sides of the political divide to the point where expletives, hate speech as well as dehumanising speeches have become the norm on and off demonstration stages. Social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become a cesspool of words and images shaped by the extreme political hatred of many.
Calling Thaksin “termite”, calling Yingluck “vagina face”, calling Democrat Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva “animal”, calling reds stupid water buffaloes and Democrat supporters cockroaches and parasites – these have become common. As a peace expert confided to this writer last week, if he had gone up on a protest stage to ask the crowd to not use hate speech, he would have been chased off.
I reckon there’re at least four factors enabling hate politics to thrive.
First, many Thais believe there’s always only one correct answer. This combined with dichotomy thinking means they believe if they’re right, the other side must be wrong. This is also applicable to the notion of good versus evil, the notion of self-serving elected politicians versus selfless appointed senators and so on.
Second, the attachment to personality cults. Many reds adored Thaksin while virtually all Democrat Party-led anti-government protesters revere HM the King. On Sunday afternoon, one viewer sent an SMS to anti-government Blue Sky Television stating: “I love HM more than myself”, while shortly after, the channel broadcast a protest leader proclaiming that Thaksin is like a “termite” and must be eradicated. On the other hand, I heard an underground band playing an anti-monarchist song last week just outside Rajamangala Sports Stadium.
If anything, the third factor, which is political television, such as Blue Sky TV on the anti-government side and the pro-Thaksin Asia Update, along with numerous radio stations, ensures that their respective sides remain “high” and “stoned” on political hatred by not even having to leave home.
Last but not least, there’s an obvious incentive for leaders from both sides to keep their supporters whipped up and hating one another, because the leaders themselves will benefit from ensuring that if their supporters hate the other side so much, they won’t switch sides.
Peace cannot be born out of hatred, but many Thais are simply too consumed by hatred to recognise it.