Bridging Thailand’s Deep Divide
5 Jul 2010
The Thai government should immediately lift the state of emergency to create conditions for national reconciliation that would allow the building of a new political consensus and the holding of peaceful elections if the country is to return to stability.
Bridging Thailand’s Deep Divide
, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, says the protracted tussle between the royalist establishment and those allied with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has left the country deeply polarised. In April and May it sparked the most violent political confrontations in decades, killing at least 90 people, injuring nearly 2,000 and inflicting deep wounds on the national psyche. Shortly before authorising a violent crackdown on anti-government protestors by the army, the establishment-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva unilaterally offered to opposition groups a “roadmap” to national reconciliation. It now persists with this plan despite having created an atmosphere of repression where basic rights of the pro-Thaksin “Red Shirt” movement are denied by emergency laws.
“There is little prospect that genuine reconciliation will succeed when the offer comes from the same government directly responsible for the recent deadly crackdown on the Red Shirts and their ongoing repression”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “The first gesture that might demonstrate a renewed commitment to building bridges would be to unconditionally and immediately lift the state of emergency”.
Empowered by the emergency decree imposed in 24 provinces – one third of the country – authorities have prohibited Red Shirts’ demonstrations, shut down their media, detained their leaders and banned financial transactions of their alleged financiers. Reconciliation when the government’s partners in resolving this conflict are on the run and denied their political rights is impossible. While the Red Shirts have no opportunity for open and peaceful expression because of draconian laws, their legitimate frustrations are being forced underground and possibly towards illegal and violent actions.
Establishing facts of the recent violence and holding perpetrators of the crimes on all sides accountable is another critical step on the road to reuniting the country. The Independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by former attorney general Kanit na Nakhon should not only seek truth but also initiate prosecutions of those it finds to have committed violent acts. The government’s use of terrorism charges to go after Red Shirt leaders as well as Thaksin is inappropriate for what was mostly a peaceful political movement that did not target civilians. It is also short-sighted as these are the very people that will need to be brought into a national reconciliation process to address the difficult issues facing the country.
In the long run, Thailand needs to think deeply about much broader political reforms of its system of government, laws and constitution, including the role of the monarch and military. Wealth needs to be shared, justice delivered equitably, and power decentralised.
“An election that should be held as soon as possible will be the beginning and not the end of this process”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Only a new government, with the legitimacy of a fresh mandate, if it is accepted by all sides, can move forward with such a complex reform agenda”.