Thursday, April 16, 2009

Red vs. Yellow Confrontation: A Wrong Turn in Thailand's Road to Democracy

Red vs. Yellow Confrontation: A Wrong Turn in Thailand's Road to Democracy
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
April 16, 2009

The shockwaves from last year's Yellow Shirt seige of the Prime Minister's Office and occupation of the National Airport have yet to subside. Several months have passed, and it's the Red Shirts' turn to disrupt the ASEAN summit, raid the Ministry of the Interior, and set fires in the streets of the capital. Thailand's vicious political clashes involve rival political camps alternately taking to the streets to vent their anger. This has not merely damaged the nation's peaceful image, it has sown the seeds of mutual confrontation and mutual hatred.

Recently Thailand's democracy has been a horsedrawn carriage that has taken a wrong turn. Having gone down the wrong fork in the road, it is unable to find its way. Politicians with selfish motives have used a basically gentle people as tools in their political struggles. The King of Thailand, who has long been a stabilizing factor, has unfairly been given a political label. The military is adopting a wait-and-see attitude. It is sitting back watching the social chaos, hoping to profit politically. The greatest irony is that while all of Thailand is in turmoil, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in exile because of his corruption, is laughing as he manipulates the conflict from overseas.

Thailand's Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts have taken to the streets one after the other. Recently a number of nations have undergone largely similar democratic "color revolutions." One. They do not involve people rising up as one in protest against authoritarianism, but masses taking to the streets in support of their own political parties. Ordinary citizens are mere pawns in the struggle between politicians. Two. Protest tactics have gone beyond simple pro-democracy demonstrations. They now include the deliberate targeting of international airports, political and economic summits, and international hotels, by crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, that can easily harm the nation's image. Three. No holds barred protest tactics divide society and breed mutual hatred. Meanwhile the politicians who fomented the unrest remain above the fray.

Today Thailand finds itself in an impasse. The main reason is that three years ago Thaksin's corruption was not dealt with effectively, either politically or legally. The military resorted to a politically expedient coup d'etat to force Thaksin out of office. The courts twice ruled the elections invalid. This sowed the seeds of future instability. Unfortunately, the corrupt and derelict Thaksin is a charismatic political leader. He enjoys broad support in rural villages. He even dares to challenge the authority of the royal family. Even in exile, he has massive financial resources and political momentum, enough to mobilize domestic forces to do his bidding. Take one exiled politician with unquenched ambitions. Add masses with irrepressible political passions, a ruling administration impotent in the face of crisis, and vested interests content to watch from the sidelines, and you have the recipe for today's out-of-control Thailand.

The Filipino people took to the streets and overthrew the Marcos dictatorship. Amidst the carnival atmosphere of "People Power," myths about democracy gained currency. Developing nations competed with each other to follow suit. But from what we have seen of the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts, Thailand's "People Power" revolution has gone awry. The people have unwittingly become the pawns of politicians. They have fallen into the politicians vortex of hate. Political knots are harder and harder to untie. The nation is finding it harder and harder to fulfill its potential.

The Red Shirts have temporarily retreated. But the chaos that forced the ASEAN Summit to adjourn early has already embarrassed current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva. Thaksin, who sits on piles of gold and silver but who cannot return home, will miss no opportunity to induce the masses to fight his proxy war. Meanwhile, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the aging King of Thailand, is finding it harder and harder to maintain the credibility of the royal family amidst the chaotic transition to democracy.

An even more serious problem is the people of Thailand have misunderstood democracy. In addition to the pro-Thaksin Red Shirts, the anti-Thaksin, royalist Yellow Shirts, the pro-Abhisit Vejajiva Blue Shirts have recently emerged. Reds, Yellows, and Blues struggle against each other. Is Thailand's democracy nothing more than a chess game between rival political camps?

Think back to the Red Shirt "anti-corruption, depose Ah-Bian" movement on Taiwan. Although the DPP ridiculed it as a failed middle class revolution, one millions people never lost control or erupted into violent conflict. Crowds outraged by corruption exercised restraint and maintained their reason. In the end, they used the ballot box to settle disputes. Is that not something Republic of China citizens can be proud of?

If a nation takes a wrong turn at a critical juncture in its development, who knows how much time and effort must be expended to get back on track? It is hard to believe Thailand has spun its wheels for three years. The Thai Baht has been devalued. Tourists have been frightened away. The economy has stagnated. By contrast, neighboring Indonesia underwent a period of intense turbulence following the end of Suharto's dictatorial rule. But in recent years anti-corruption, counter-terrorism, and economic development are back on track, leaving the international community amazed. The ruling party recently won re-election. If this trend continues, in a few years Thailand and Indonesia may switch places!

2009.04.16 05:19 am










No comments: