Thais must begin 2009 not with a sense of doom but with unified determination to end division
After all we have been through, the nation’s collective New Year wish must be for the obvious and the simple. Today should mark a fresh start for all Thais to look ahead with hope and a renewed sense of brotherhood and harmony – not least because the whole country owes itself that positive will. And in addition, the number 2009 is an auspicious number to start at.
2008 will always be remembered as one of the most turbulent years ever in Thai politics. We have seen three prime ministers, two of whom were forced to leave office in disgrace. Major political parties were dissolved due to scandals involving electoral fraud. Former prime ministerShinawatra Thaksin came back to Thailand briefly but later became a convicted criminal, a fugitive on the run. Many people would sacrifice their lives to keep him out of Thailand, while others would die defending him.
The most tragic scenes of all during 2008 were those of Thais clashing with Thais during the political rallies, leaving a major scar on a society already deeply divided. Eventually, the closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport capped a very bad year and dented the country’s reputation even further. Economically, it was not promising either, as the impact from the US financial crisis started to gather menacing momentum.
Now that the new government under Prime MinisterVejjajiva Abhisit has managed to make its policy address to the Parliament – on Tuesday, in spite of the red-shirted protesters blocking access to the Parliament – some people are looking to the future with hope.
Abhisit has yet to prove his worth. But his premiership was more welcomed by the market compared to those of Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat who faced public mistrust over whose interests they really represented.
And some light at the end of the tunnel came on Tuesday, when expected violence was avoided as the Abhisit government changed the venue for its policy statement declaration from the Parliament to the Foreign Ministry. Had the government insisted that the session take place at Parliament at all costs, it would have been a very tense countdown to the New Year.
Thanks to the relatively good behaviour of the anti-government protesters and the tolerance shown to them on the part of the new administration, the policy statement was delivered peacefully – and that should remain one of the few positive political episodes of 2008.
It is far from a perfect closing chapter to 2008, but how the year has ended should serve as a vehicle to haul us out of the divisive and detrimental politics of hatred. It should give us time to deal with all the lingering problems in a more constructive way, with a clearer conscience.
And if we are to believe that all the bad things in 2008 happened for good reasons, we simply have to learn from the mistakes and glean some positives from all the negatives. We have seen the military once again trying to exert its influence on politics but the Army refused to fall into anyone’s trap and thus aggravate the crisis.
The media, meanwhile, are as divided as any other social sector but news outlets avoided constant efforts to fan the flame. Our divided society meanwhile struggled to mend itself. As the “red” and “yellow” camps remained at each other’s throats, a new force emerged to call for peace, restraints and reconciliation.
It is obvious what the key institutions should do in 2009 to avoid a backslide into such detrimental politics. The military must step further back, the media must promote love and not hatred, and Parliament and the executive branch must function with honesty and integrity. The judiciary must make sure everyone is equal under the law.
The hardest thing to achieve will probably be how to turn the yellow and red movements into constructive political mechanisms. They have taken the role of “civil society” organisations way too far and such strategies as blocking the airports and intimidating TV crews must never become the norm for all political protests. Yet we can’t afford to begin 2009 with a self-defeatist attitude and assume that the red-yellow rift is too wide open to heal.
Although it’s a far-fetched dream to hope for a peace accord, at least the two movements can be kept at arm length from each other through an honest, accountable government, a neutral and just judiciary, and a professional military.
The wounds have run far too deep and they will take time to repair themselves. Exhausted, confused and divided as we are, all Thais have to begin the new year not with more expectations of the worst, but with a conviction to do our best as a nation come what may.