BANGKOK – After years of discussion and dialogue, one can see a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. The time has come for conflicting parties of all ideologies to sit down and talk business to attain peace and reconciliation. If Thais still continue on their divisive course, their country will be left behind in the fast-changing regional environment.
Last week’s forum “Uniting for the Future: Learning from each other’s experience” was a rare event and will not be wasted if the concerned parties take up some of the salient points mentioned by foreign speakers. Mutual trust, respect for truth, rule of law, democratic principles and national interest were cited over and over again at the forum. Most importantly, the reconciliation process will take time – so it must not be rushed and it has to be inclusive.
In retrospect, these points were not new. In fact, they have been mentioned numerous times before in reports and comments by various Thai intellectuals, expert groups and the public at large. Most notably, the monumental work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand was a case in point. So was the research work by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute. In addition, an estimated 100,000 participants from all walks of life also took part in over 100 forums to find common ways out for the country.
The Thai public is very familiar with the comments by these foreign experts. Indeed, since 1973 when Thailand was democratised due to the rise of people power, political narratives were more or less followed along these lines but without the coloured labels or political great games we have witnessed today.
To break the current impasse, some common ground must be reached.
The message from the forum was clear: both sides must create an atmosphere for building mutual trust and confidence.
The obvious way to do that is to stop all forms of political intimidation and harassment, which have already blackened the government’s reputation. Secondly, the suspension of the amnesty bill, which is the principal demand of the Democrat Party, must be implemented. Otherwise, all bets are off. The Yingluck government should seize this opportunity to build up personal rapport and confidence with the opposition, especially with key figures of the Democrat Party. After all, Yingluck was behind the idea of open forums to engage stakeholders for political reform and national reconciliation.
For the time being, that is the least she could do. Her aides often claimed that she has an independent mind. Now she needs to demonstrate she also can take independent action – without the input of her brother.
Truth be told, after the end of last week’s forum, leaders of the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties met behind closed doors over a working dinner to discuss ways to maintain the momentum and search for common ground.
Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya and former spokesman of the Democrat Party, Buranaj Samutharak, held talks with Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana and Secretary-General to the Prime Minister Suranand Vejjajiva at an undisclosed location in the presence of two ambassadors.
The discussion was frank and candid with both sides airing their views and perceptions of the current situation. A few ideas were floated at the meeting, including the establishment of an informal group comprising Thai and foreign ‘wise-men’ who would facilitate the dialogue of reconciliation.
Other ideas included a working group comprising key Pheu Thai and Democrat representatives to work out lists of issues that could be resolved, leaving more difficult issues for later. Judging from their meeting, there was an emerging sense of solidarity that any resolution must be “comprehensive” – all inclusive in one package, addressing all key issues raised by all concerned parties. They also agreed if the current condition persists, Thailand will be in ruins and the fugitive Thaksin Shinawatara is unlikely to make it home – a Catch 22 they must avoid.
Apparently, at the political level, there is common ground that further consultation and dialogue must intensify. In addition, the “middle of the road” elements with the support of the pro-government and opposition groups are bridging their perception gap by tackling common economic and social issues. In recent political rallies, albeit small, participants came from all colour divides. Various civic groups from both groups are contemplating pivotal issues on income inequalities and decentralisation of power, among others.
The Yingluck government has to display genuine political will to move the process of reconciliation ahead. The prime minister has heard of doable recommendations from prominent peace-builders in additional to local ones. She must stop pretending and take action now. – Kavi Chongkittavorn