Article : Another bitter lesson that may get us nowhere

Another bitter lesson that may get us nowhere

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation
Published on September 3, 2008

OUR luck could only hold so far. If Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag was right – that everything happening in Thailand is part of a democratic evolution – then we have been getting the hardest possible lesson. Things have come a long, long way from the day when the People’s Alliance for Democracy was seemingly a pure ideological force, whose members had nothing more complicated in their hearts than the feeling that something was morally wrong with the Temasek deal.

We have gone through countless soul-searching exercises since an extremely rich politician refused to pay taxes when he should have. Protests were labelled by some as a “blow to democracy”, but we thought, “What’s wrong with people taking to the streets to denounce corruption?”

Then a coup tested our conscience and, just when we thought that was the toughest we could bear, the dissolution of a party that had won unprecedented support from the poor followed.

The coup and disbanding of the Thai Rak Thai Party turned out to be just initial bumps in our roller-coaster quest for the right morals. A reincarnation of Thai Rak Thai swept a general election, a landslide victory that, to some, endorsed democracy but, to others, amplified doubts about the system.

When the new government plotted to change the new Constitution, deemed by one side a legacy of the coup and by the other necessary medicine to cure democratic ills, new turmoil erupted.

We prayed it wouldn’t degenerate into a war, because this is where everyone discards morals that are held so dearly at first and embraces the very means they used to abhor. The wishful thinking ended last week when the PAD lost its patience and took civil disobedience a step too far. The brief seizure of National Broadcast Television and occupation of Government House were provocative and hardly justifiable, and when the opposing camp staged an even more belligerent rally at nearby Sanam Luang, Rajadamnoen wept again.

It’s too easy, however, to blame the PAD’s provocation, or the rival protesters’ blood thirst, or the police’s conspicuously poor preparation. The “causes” of Tuesday’s tragedy could stretch back years and they have been blurred by the failure of both sides of the conflict to uphold fundamental principles.

Where should we start our diagnosis? Should we go as far back as the time when Thaksin Shinawatra was spraying his shares to nominees all over the place and still managed to slip through constitutional safeguards to become ruler of Thailand? Or was Tuesday’s infamy a more direct result of his rivals’ inability to take election results as his absolution?

We have tempted and teased our fortune – by ignoring guiding values or using them selectively. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that both sides have been claiming that they fight for the same ideal goal – a good political system – yet don’t mind killing each other to achieve it. Both share the same bitterness, anger and confusion, and suffer the same curse of flying high one day and having their hopes and dreams upended the next.

How can a nation break apart with its people so alike? Why is our nation so fragile with us so “flexible”? It seems clear now that we are not divided by ideologies, but rather pure lust for power.

Last year’s referendum was purportedly on a charter but in reality it was largely over one man. The military that ousted Thaksin practically repeated his tracks, though on a relatively minor scale. The PAD decried the siege of The Nation’s headquarters by pro-Thaksin mobs more than two years ago, only to end up terrorising the NBT staff itself last week. The courts are “just” and must be obeyed as long as they rule against our enemies and until the judges turn against us.

If Tej was right, our democratic evolution still has a long way to go. We have learned a lot but have still achieved only a little. One side condemns the other side for sacrificing values and respect for human rights, only to sacrifice its own values and principles.

Is there a force stronger than democratic aspirations, one that always lurks to tip our balance? Or is this just a myth about democracy – that the only way to attain it is through breaking its fundamental laws?

Will we be able to complete the study and emerge as a competent nation, made healthy through the hardest, most unforgettable lessons? Or are we stuck and will finally be doomed, because we are using raw instincts to try to achieve something so ideal?

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