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BURNING ISSUE

Hopeful signs, but many devils lie in the details

Judging from the signs from different parties, it appears the political gloom that has continued for more than six months is likely to come to an end soon.

Capital from foreign countries has returned to Thailand. Both sides involved in the lingering conflict have been more open to talks. Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has campaigned for a peaceful solution to the political crisis. Moreover, the "judgement day" is nearing for caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra involving cases against her being dealt with by the Constitutional Court and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

The court and the NACC have become less strict against the prime minister by allowing her more time to defend herself. This has led political observers to believe that political negotiations are going well.

Although Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee, has been firm against negotiating with politicians in power, that could be just a role he has to play. With a large number of people joining his anti-government rally, Suthep still has maintained his negotiating power.

The government also is using the same tactic, its red-shirt supporters calling for a pro-government rally on May 6.

A big question is: How will the ongoing political crisis end? Both sides agree on the need for an election and reform but they differ in the details. The caretaker government and the Pheu Thai Party want a clear date for an election.

Pheu Thai politicians expect the worst for the prime minister in the cases against her, in connection with the rice price-pledging scheme and the removal of National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri. And they are attempting to remain in power by arguing that the Cabinet still can retain its caretaker status even if the prime minister was to be removed from office. For them, if or when the prime minister has to leave office, a new election would be the best solution to guaranteeing a return to power.

The Democrat Party also wants to contest the next election. The country has been without a fully-functional administration for too long already. If the conflict is allowed to continue with no end in sight, the country will head to disaster. The party's financial supporters are aware of this and the Democrats will be viewed in a negative light if they boycott the election again.

It is true that an election is not the end-all of democracy, but there is no democracy without an election.

Pheu Thai has complained that the July 20 date for the next election scheduled by the Election Commission is too far, but they are not strongly against it. This is a sign that an election will certainly take place.

The remaining problem to solve involves how to carry out reform. What should be reformed during the period from today until election day? Or should there be a social contract that the government to be formed after the next election should serve as a transitory administration, with the main duty of carrying out reforms and with the requirement to serve for a limited period of time?

The conflicting sides may still need to discuss in detail as to whether a public referendum should be held on what areas should be reformed, and whether certain politicians involved in the conflict should stay on the sidelines for a period of time (for example during the tenure of the provisional government).

Agreement should be reached in the case of one side making some unacceptable demand (such as being exempted from any legal action for past wrongdoing) or another side wanting a "total defeat" against the other.

If the leaders of both sides do not want to compromise and remain firm on their original standpoints, violent clashes between their supporters fuelled by hatred will be inevitable. If that is the case, the outlook will be even worse for the country.




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