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Better education, more money do not give you legitimacy

On Sunday, when anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban delivered his post-election speech, he declared victory for voters who refused to exercise their right and also made allegations of electoral fraud. However, one thing was conspicuously missing in his speech. He made no mention whatsoever of the 8 million to 10 million voters who were robbed of their right to vote because of obstruction by PDRC supporters.

Empathy, it seems, has become a rare quality after a nearly decade-long political conflict. People on both sides consume one-sided information to the point where they no longer see any validity in the views of the opposite camp.

A Bangkok-based foreign political expert recently remarked that his well-heeled neighbours on Sukhumvit Road were sincere and genuinely passionate in their wish to see a corruption-free Thailand. I responded that I was aware of their passion, but their attempt to solve the problem through illegitimate means, such as demanding that an unelected "People's Council" be set up to rule for 18 months or that a military coup oust this government, was unacceptable. These options would only create more problems.

However, many red shirts simply fail to recognise the fact that many PDRC supporters are altruistic in this regard.

While some say they do not expect anything more than empty rhetoric and hate speech on both sides' rally stages, I feel hugely let down that even forums held by the supposed educated class fail to grasp the nuances and complexity of the current conflict.

Last week, just days before the election, the alternative Rung Arun School hosted a forum on the PDRC's phenomenon. The founder of the school - which is famous for its natural approach and exorbitant fees - also spoke at the forum.

Sadly, the speeches at the forum were a very flat, one-dimensional portrayal of the conflict - absolute good versus evil.

They failed to see that many supporters of the caretaker Yingluck Shinawatra administration as well as those who support neither Yingluck nor the PDRC believe that universal suffrage is inviolable. The PDRC poses a threat to that cherished principle when its leaders continue declaring that the protesters are superior, better educated and better off, and hence deserve greater political say and legitimacy.

As Thailand continues to be in limbo because of this prolonged conflict, it is imperative that both sides make an effort to be more empathetic, recognise the positive aspects of their opponent and at the same time see their own negative aspects.

Besides, the reds have failed to acknowledge the dark side of Yingluck's administration and the role her brother Thaksin plays. Similarly, the PDRC supporters have failed to see the need for greater transparency and freedom of speech. The reds have failed to apologise properly for hitting businesses badly when they blocked the Ratchaprasong intersection in 2010, while the PDRC is doing the same with its prolonged "Bangkok shutdown" campaign.

On Sunday, a PDRC protester standing next to me at Isetan department store began fuming when she heard that the mall would now be closing at 6pm instead of later. She was clearly oblivious to her role in causing this situation.


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