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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/27/10

Thailand...get well soon

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Message Nattavud Pimpa
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Thailand get well soon and Clean-up Thailand are the current campaigns by the ordinary people in Thailand who want to show their support to the nation. For most Thais, witnessing the major buildings became targets of arson attacks, innocent people were brutally abused, and violent actions from both government and red-shirt protestors is soul damaging. From the Thai cultural perspectives, I understand that conflict is not what we see as the positive challenge in our society. Thais love harmony and always find optimal ways to negotiate when it comes to conflict. Political conflict, unfortunately, is inevitable in all societies. However, when it finishes with debris, tears and death, all Thais question the next step of the nation. What will be the next step of Thailand? How can we "get well soon"?

The fact that red-shirt leaders, Jatuporn Promphan, Nattawut Saikua Vipoothalange Pattanaphumthai and Kwanchai Prajapana, surrendered, and the government can control all red-shirt protestors in Bangkok cannot guarantee the long-term peace. It is evident that the situation has gone beyond the fight to restore Thaksin Shinawatra to Thailand. At this stage, the Thai government must realize that, for most red-shirt demonstrators, the political movement is the call for a fair judicial system and equal treatment, and a return of an administration in which they can find a semblance of certainty and solace. Indeed, many Thais believe that Thaksin Shinawatra's financial back-up is behind the political unrest in Thailand. It is, however, too naà ve to assume that all protestors are paid by Thaksin to participate in the anti-government action.

An article by Pongpaichit and Baker, two prominent political-economists, suggested that camaraderie and a siege mentality helped keep many red-shirt protesters behind the barricades until the bitter end. It is important for the Thai government to understand the mentality of the majority of Thais. Most of them simply ask for social equity in the forms of quality of life. Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party enthusiastically promoted this issue in Thailand while he was in power. Certainly it takes time for Thaksin to establish his connection with business and community leaders all over the nation. It, however, turns out to be his competitive advantages when he needs to continue the fight with the government.

In the eyes of most poor people, Thaksin is god who provided them with quick remedy for poverty and hard life. With his understanding of human behavior, he launched a number of powerful socialism campaigns, reality-television that captured his visit to the rural areas, or war against drugs campaign. These strategies won the heart of poor Thais who were neglected by their previous governments. Simply, Thaksin was clever enough to send the signals that most Thais wanted to hear.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva and his government must learn this lesson if they want to see the reality of Thailand get well soon. The must quickly address strategic plan on early election that includes all parties, and a fair judicial system. Social equity and treatment must also be addressed because it will heal the wound in the hearts of red-shirt protestors. Thaksin keeps sending the message that PM Abhisit and his government represents the elites. This message widens the gap between rural Thais and the government. The government cannot leave this assumption unresolved. Regionalism may be one of the strategies by Thaksin to stir anger among the North and North-eastern Thais. This issue can be resolved by way of political representation of all regions in Thailand in the current government.

Red-shirt protesters must not be treated as a group of criminals. In fact, an on-going discussion with them is a good move for long-term peace in Thailand. In their article, Ponpaichit and Baker suggested that the path toward social peace at such a terrible moment requires mercy, a readiness to compromise and some steel to persuade one's own followers to show compassion. We could not agree less. The use of military crackdown to stop street violence is a short-term strategy. The Thai government must understand that any forms of violence could return to Thailand if the demands for a fair election and equal treatment are not abruptly responded. Working with people of all levels and backgrounds to ensure their understanding on steps to the next election, free press and fair treatment among red-sh*t and yellow shirt people must be implemented.

Another key issue is the role of Thailand in the international community. ASEAN calls for peace talks and possible strategies to end violence in Thailand. To re-connect with ASEAN community, PM Abhisit Vejjajiva must emphasize the inclusion of people from all walks of life in the contemporary Thai politics. He needs to signal to all ASEAN members that Thailand is aware of the current situation and its effect to South East Asia. Political steps are taken to promote peace and fair political system. This process will help Thailand to re-insure trust among ASEAN members. It is predicted by Thai Farmers Bank Research Centre that the recent political unrest and demonstrations in Thailand would trim GDP growth to about 2.3 per cent this year. The Thai government may need to talk to all ASEAN members on how to prevent the dispersion of this from Thailand to South-East Asia.

The political sanction from the army may become a reality if the government fails to strategize the next step of political move in Thailand. Military sanctions will push Thailand backward and most Thais, and the world community, do not want to see that. Simply put, Thais need to talk among themselves. PM Abhisit must show his true leadership by the use of democratic norms, not military force, to resolve the complexity of the current situation. To see Thailand "get well soon" become a reality, Thaksin Shinawatra and red-shirt people must re-consider their meaning of "national benefits.' After all these messy situations, Thaksin and Abhisit must learn to sacrifice their pride for the sake of Thai people.

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Nattavud Pimpa is a senior lecturer in international management at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) in Australia. He is also on twitter.com/nattpimpa
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