Saturday, August 8, 2009

Political conflict will continue in Thailand

There is a prevailing idea in Thai society that unity among groups of people must be maintained to ensure the country's stability. This idea may be a legacy of authoritarian rule when Thailand was faced with threats from the outside, such as an expansion of communism in the region. During that period people who questioned the powers that be were often rejected as trouble-makers and unpatriotic.

Even today many people believe that unity is the top priority for the country and that Thai society must remain peaceful, with no conflicts among groups of people.
In a democratic society it is hard to prevent people from getting involved in conflicts and almost impossible to make different groups of people agree with one another on all issues, particularly issues that directly involve their own interests.

In fact, democracy is an attempt to deal with conflicts and limit them to a manageable level. It is human nature to think and see things differently, and people's interests differ. Democracy, through mechanisms like elections, free media, and checks and balances, encourages compromise and peaceful settlement of disputes.
Only dictatorial rule can make political conflicts disappear from the surface or make them less apparent by suppressing dissident views. But those conflicts lurk deep down and wait for the time to explode.

What must be done, by the authorities, the people involved and the general public, is to prevent disputes from turning to the use of force or violence. Thais should learn from the recent past that violence cannot settle a dispute but instead worsens the situation.

Justice and fair treatment by the authorities involved is also needed in order to settle political conflicts. That is what the red shirts and supporters of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra have asked for. It is the duty of the authorities, particularly the government, to enforce the law fairly and prevent political disputes from worsening.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said recently that he would strive to contain the ongoing political conflict from degenerating into violence. He appeared to admit his government's failure to end the severe social division when outlining the administration's achievements during its first six months in office. The prime minister said polarisation still persisted even though his government was trying to minimise social divisions.

What is threatening our country from the inside is blind faith in the groups that are involved in the political conflict. Followers of those groups blindly believe what is told them by their leaders and are pitched against followers of other groups. What they should do for the sake of the country is step back from all the fuss and think for themselves if they are being used in a dispute between people with political aspirations. Is the cause of this dispute really something they must care about and die for?

Thais are now enjoying a period of calm, free from street protests and violent confrontations. But many observers and members of the public alike wonder how long it will last.

You cannot completely stamp out political conflicts from society. Even if the red shirts and the yellow shirts bury the hatchet and forget about past hostility, that will not rule out conflict between other rival groups.

Let us hope that Thais have learned from the recent political incidents that conflict is natural and tolerance is a way to prevent it from getting worse. If we can survive this volatile period of political development, we will ascend towards democratic maturity. The goal is not complete unity or a conflict-free society but rather a real democracy and a bright future for Thailand.
The Nation, Bangkok

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