Sunday, January 5, 2014


Where is Thailand’s answer to Gandhi or King?

The New Year’s lull offers a chance to pause and take stock of the most recent anti-Shinawatra demonstrations that have energized, empowered and exasperated so many during the last two months of 2013.

Simply put, it’s ridiculous that people have to march in the hundreds of thousands, even millions, to free their homeland from the predations of a parasitic clan.

Watching Thailand over the past few years has offered a spectacle of rapidly reversing polarities in which reds go on the rampage under yellow administrations and yellows go on the rampage under red administrations, each emulating the brash tactics of the other until everyone loses equally. 

There’s no future in it; it’s a little like the right hand and left hand taking turns, one pounding the other, alternately, ad infinitum.

If someone, anyone with a brain and a good heart can get those hands not to be at odds but to work cooperatively in tandem, then we are talking about true leadership and not another partisan power grab.

That’s why it is disappointing that the orators and organizers at the Rajdamnern stage spout unimaginative partisan speech and do not offer a more heartfelt welcome to red-shirts fed up with the Shinawatra shenanigans.

Red shirts minus the billionaire constitute a viable social movement with innovative programs for the poor. Recently, red shirts in the fray also showed admirable restraint by self-dispersing when street fighting broke out on the outskirts of the demonstrations.

With an increasing number of reds saying no to Thaksin, abjuring violence and avoiding conflict, a historic turning point was at hand, the window for which is rapidly closing, but not yet closed, that both sides could come to joint terms out of a shared desire to save the country from self-inflicted crisis and the spectre of civil war.

One need only look at Syria to get an idea of why a civil war is the worst possible way of solving a domestic conflict.

To resolve the conflicts caused by squabbling politicians is not worth a single human life.

For those lives already lost and those who have suffered injury on the rough edges of both sides of the barricades, there is no outcome that can undo the damage done. But damage control can stop the contagion of more violence.

Casualties that take place during a political upheaval are especially vulnerable to being romanticized or politicized in a way that sets the stage for retributive violence, even before the smoke has cleared.

The feral desire to run amok in the melee that follows a violent act offers scant comfort and no recompense to those grieving fallen comrades.

Now that blood has been spilled on the streets of the big city, it begs the question; can both sides pull back from the brink?

It’s too late for an entirely graceful outcome. The time for peaceful denouement came and went before the first casualty. Just before then, PM Yingluck cancelled a plane journey out of Thailand that would have included a retinue of many top aides. An extended absence on the part of a divisive proxy leader would have been a boon and a salve for a sorely divided nation.

Ms.Yingluck is a woman possessed of superb decorum and good manners, but knowing when to step aside and to do so out of compassion for citizens on both sides of the divide would have been more beautiful than any photo op she has ever done. To keep the peace is an act more supple, humble and wise than any choreographed genuflection she may perform in the future.

Is it really fair to expect the vast multitudes of people who so ardently waved the flag in defense of a dying nation to pack up and go home only to let the unjust status quo fester and rot as before?

Isolated but sinister acts of terror such as sniper shootings, bombings and the cowardly acts of undercover agents provocateur only serve to hasten the descent into civil madness and civil war. Because of the sensational nature of the news business and its morbid priorities, a few acts of violence can overshadow the transformative accomplishments of an uplifting, peace-abiding mass reform movement.

And yet, the beauty of so many people demonstrating in so orderly, peaceful and disciplined a fashion is more “amazing” than anything the moribund Ministry of Tourism could come up with.

The nay-sayers who complain about tourism being affected by street demonstrations pout the loudest when their political opponents seem to be getting the upper hand. Does anyone think the bloody red-shirt revolt of 2010 was good for tourism?

A peaceful revolution is not a dinner party but neither is it a free-for-all. For it to work at all, discipline and decorum are high order priorities. Never should violence be employed against people, though civil disobedience is the norm and some property damage is probably unavoidable.

While it is natural, perhaps even necessary that protesters be fired up with enthusiasm and stand firm in their idealism, (cash subsidies don’t begin to explain the willingness to endure the privations of living on the streets and putting one’s body on the frontline) there is always a danger that a peaceful but stoked-up crowd can lose control of itself or become agitated to the point of crossing the line into retributive violence.

If peaceful protests are to draw on the hidden power of ahimsa, remaining meek, charitable and unarmed in the best tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, then it is absolutely imperative to avoid inflicting hurt on others or putting one’s own people in serious jeopardy.

Although Nelson Mandela did not exclude violence as a tool of revolution, in his ripe old age he came close to Gandhi and King in his willingness to embrace erstwhile foes with a generous view of human nature that refused to reduce a struggle to us-versus-them.

Thailand needs visionary leaders who do not make expedient use of the very real hatreds simmering in society but instead seek cooperation and common ground.