It is understandable that many people are literally obsessed about what will be the next political twist and turn.
They are concerned about whether caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Cabinet will today be removed by the Constitutional Court, whether there will an election, and what will happen to Thailand if there is yet another military coup following any further bloody confrontation between political supporters from both sides.
It is not good enough, however, to be lost and obsessed about such myopic short-term political developments to the exclusion of long-term issues. It might be cruel for this writer to say he cares little about whether or not Yingluck and her Cabinet are removed, but I am concerned about the following issues:
l The breakdown of political tolerance. From calling those who think differently about the monarchy “trash” to physically attacking those from the opposite camps and the consumption of one-sided news and information, these attitudes and practices are essentially undemocratic and cannot bode well for Thailand in the long term.
l The normalisation of hate speech. Thanks to the growth of social media, anyone can now verbally threaten or dehumanise others by calling them “red-water buffaloes” or “cockroaches”.
Many have failed to learn to use platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to engage in genuine debate that is essential to a healthy democratic public sphere, and they end up using these virtual venues as a platform to spread hate and the belief that Thailand will become a desirable society only if we can just hate and get rid of people who think differently.
However, my warning to those who think about censoring hate speech is that it’s not only futile, but also not the democratic way to go. People ought to confront hate speech with reason and empathy, and learn to rise above it. In hate speech, we see the worst of freedom of speech.
l The growing sense of insecurity and paranoia. From Opposition Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva fearing for his life, the killing of a red-shirt poet who campaigned against the lese majeste law and the abduction of a staunch critic of ousted fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, it’s fair to say that many politically active people are now living in fear.
They are haunted by the fear that they might be followed and eventually hunted down by someone. Such fear leads us to the next issue: the breakdown of trust.
l The breakdown of trust. Virtually all supporters of the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) do not trust Yingluck and her elder brother, Thaksin. They believe Thaksin does not just want his confiscated money back, but wants to become Thailand’s first president.
They also can’t see red shirts as well-intended people wanting equal rights in an electoral democracy.
On the other hand, pro-government red shirts do not believe that PDRC supporters wish well for Thailand and want to see the country corruption-free, even if the reds may disagree as to how the PDRC might want to go about achieving its goals.
No matter which side wins, if we allow these conditions to determine how Thailand will be characterised in the years and decades ahead, the nation will suffer a huge democratic deficit.
Any short-term gain that any side can boast is not worth these long-term losses we’re now suffering from.