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Reconciliation: Military and politicians sharing same bed but different dreams

Reconciliation: Military and politicians sharing same bed but different dreams

WEDNESDAY, January 18, 2017
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Can national reconciliation be dictated by a decree from above? Can a political party agree to sign an “agreement of truth” for national unity without agreeing on the definition of “reconciliation?”

Nobody has any clear answers to these questions – even after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha decided on Tuesday to invoke his absolute power under Article 44 to set up a committee and at least four subordinate bodies related to national strategy, reform and national reconciliation.
Early reports suggest that about 98 people will be appointed to the committee and its offshoots, with military officers apparently dominating the structure. That could be the first major obstacle towards achieving anything remotely resembling resolution for the drawn-out conflicts involving various political groupings.
Initial reactions from politicians on all sides ranged from cautious scepticism to extreme cynicism. But things changed in a matter of days as leading figures in the two major parties – Pheu Thai and Democrats – shifted from seeming reluctance to almost enthusiastic endorsement.
Only one thing can explain the change in mood among the politicos: Whether or not they actually believe it will deliver reconciliation, jumping on the bandwagon might get them to a general election faster.
For politicians “frozen” by the military junta for almost three years since the May 2014 coup, further delay in the revised “road map” leading to an election could spell disaster: Dwindling financial resources coupled with a growing distrust among constituents –the latter partly fuelled by the military government – threaten to undermine the credibility of the political class and dampen public enthusiasm for a general election.
All parties concerned realise, of course, that the military government can’t last forever – and the people, at some point, will demand their right to choose their own rulers and have the military return to barracks where they belong. But the promised reform and reconciliation has yet to yield any substantial outcome and signs of success in the near future are few and far between.
The latest effort by the government to relaunch the reform and reconciliation process is thus seen by many observers as a “floating log” to save politicians from drowning in the sea of despair and hopelessness.
The initial reaction from veteran politicians on both sides was to question the sincerity of the powers-that-be, stressing that real reconciliation could only materialise with “equal treatment” for both sides.
Then came a welcoming message from former Premier Somchai Wongsawat, a leading figure in Pheu Thai, who declared he was very happy that Deputy Premier General Prawit Wongsuwan would head the government’s reconciliation process “because he is respected by all parties concerned”.
That declaration drowned out a less positive public statement from Suthep Thuangsuban, who expressed reservation by suggesting that “the road to reconciliation won’t be easy”. He then declared that he wouldn’t sign the proposed “agreement of truth”.
The Democrat leadership reacted with cautiously optimistic statements that didn’t quite match Somchai’s enthusiasm but were certainly not negative in tone. The drawn-out “freeze” on political activities has spurred professional politicians to accept any gesture that might lead to a thaw.
Premier Prayut has described the proposed agreement to be signed by all parties related to national politics as a “pledge” to join the peace and reconciliation process.
In simple terms, that would mean that the open conflict between the red shirts and yellow shirts that has plagued the country for over a decade – and was the pretext for the last coup – must somehow be brought to an end before a general election can take place.
But for most politicians who support the move, the real motivation in joining the process is hope that it will bring an end to the ban on their activities – meaning they could begin campaigning for votes once again.
Military brass and politicians may be about to get into bed together. But they will surely have different dreams.
Nobody said reconciliation would be easy. 
But there is a crucial difference between reconciliation among politicians and national unity among the people. Unless that difference is acknowledged, the ongoing exercise will be nothing more than a political circus.