White shirts not so white

whiteshirt

Our problems result from ills not remedied but kept alive by vested interest

The white shirted campaign took off in grand stride. It made a nice appeal by calling for all parties to stop hurting Thailand. In short, political violence and conflict must be brought to an end. Borwonsak Uwanno, secretary-general of the King Prajadhipok Institute, stood at the forefront of this campaign, supported by the Thai Journalists’ Association along with almost two dozen organisations representing academics, workers, politicians and business.

On the surface, by calling for a peaceful resolution to Thai politics, the white shirted campaign has created a good impression among the public at large about its objectives. But does this campaign really make sense?

If the red shirted protesters, who support ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the yellow shirted campaigners, who are now waiting in the wings and are ready to come onto the streets anytime – were to disappear from the face of the Earth, would peace and prosperity return to Thailand?

The political crisis enveloping Thailand is a symptom of ills that have not been remedied properly. The ills in Thai society have been nurtured along and kept alive by vested interest groups.

First, politicians are to blame for all the ills and corruption that have been plaguing society. They come to power via vote-buying. Once they are in charge, they try to recoup their investment in the polls. Politicians squeeze taxpayers for their own gain and award concessions or government contracts to their cronies and acquaintances.

Second, the military has been a key factor in Thai politics. Whenever politics is weak, we see the dark shadow of the military looming in the background. Over the past three years, the military has been jockeying for power and has not hesitated to play politics to serve its interests.

Third, police have also become a source of instability, as virtually all top officers play politics at different levels. Since their job is to look after law and order, they can conveniently exacerbate the crisis by ignoring their responsibilities or twisting their role for political or personal gain. The police force needs a total overhaul.

Fourth, the media have also failed in their duty to report breaking developments truthfully and provide credible analysis of current events to the general public.

Most media organisations tend to side with politicians. The broadcast media are likely to serve the government’s interests, while the mainstream print media have become highly politicised.

Yet we have observed a proliferation of new media channels as manifested by the arrival of cable TV, Internet websites and blogs and community radio stations.

These new media channels might provide alternative views to the public, yet most of them tend to become highly politicised with hidden agendas that do not necessarily serve the public’s interest.

Fifth, civil servants are not doing their job appropriately. They too tend to serve politicians’ and their own interests rather than the interests of the public.

The bureaucracy has become too large and cumbersome. It also needs a complete overhaul. Current fiscal constraints do not allow for a large civil servant sector, whose headcount needs to be brought under control even further.

Sixth, business is also to blame. So far businessmen have succeeded in hiding behind the scenes. Most Thai businessmen like to say publicly that they do not want to get involved in the political arena because it is dirty. But many of them have been secretly or openly financing politicians, who once in power are ready to return favours. The Thai corporate sector now controls most of the wealth of this nation.

Finally, academics are doing badly amid the current political climate. Many of them do not speak out or try to explain what has gone wrong with Thailand. Many of them do not have a good grasp of what is happening here. Many of them go so far as to serve politicians with an ulterior motive of financial gain or at the promise of political power.

You can easily identify the black sheep in academia by their call for a constitutional rewrite to free the politicians banned from politics or their urging for a House dissolution.

It is extremely difficult to find a convenient way out of the current political conflict and crisis, rooted in the selfish interests of the key players described above. Their positions now have diverged from the public interest, and many have already moved into war mode.

A peaceful resolution is out of the question, as many of the players are willing to resort to violence or armed struggle to achieve their political ends. We will be witnessing some more troubling times ahead as the rival factions play out their Machiavellian game plans.

By The Nation
Published on May 11, 2009

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