For the sake of a better Thailand, we must put our differences aside

Twe Bunnag – As a Thai I have dreamed of democracy since becoming politically aware in my teens; a corruption free society, respect for human rights, free and fair elections, economic justice, care for the environment…basic qualities of a decent society that none of the string of governments we have had in my lifetime have delivered. Yet despite the various military coups and unelected leaders we have had to endure, I have watched the process towards democracy stumble ahead. Political consciousness has steadily risen, and the culture of patronage and entitlement is not as solid and complacent as it once was. But we have a long way to go in the democratic process.

The present polarization that we are currently witnessing is deeply disturbing to myself and many others up and down the country who are convinced that the rhetoric from both the red or yellow camps will move us dangerously backwards. I have friends on both sides of the barrier and it saddens me to think that if things are unresolved the violent clashes that we have seen in recent years look likely to be repeated once again, and nothing essentially will change, whoever ends up assuming the next reins of power.

Now more than ever it is time to do away with the false dichotomy of good versus evil, to stop listening to the slogans and soundbites, to cease fingerpointing and start contributing to a more collective form of politics. This is the one chance we have of averting a bloody outcome to the conflict between the Taksin camp and Suthep Thaugsuban’s followers. And here for once I agree wholeheartedly with the group of businessmen who say that we should have forums where political reforms can be discussed and the way ahead reached through consensus. If we could involve all the population in reasoned, sustained, open debate, without the vindictive political posturing that we are seeing, not only might we break through the present impasse but we would also be taking a constructive step towards democracy.

This kind of participation is the opposite of turning up at a rally, wearing a coloured T-shirt, waving flags and listening to rousing speeches from self-serving demagogues. It is about taking responsibility and daring to think for ourselves. This is the real challenge. But I am not sure we are capable of taking it up. We are still stuck in a culture where we bow and scrape to those who are in authority by dint of their wealth, social status, but most of all by the power that we invest in them. Until we stop being subservient the basic ingredient to a true democracy will be missing; the proactive participation that continues to intelligently question the key values that guide our society and that insists on a political setup that is non authoritarian, and based on the real good of society rather than the greed of a few. This is a tall order that implies looking inward and asking ourselves difficult fundamental questions about what we want and where we are going.

I am not equipped to do any in depth political analysis. I am a mere writer. In my fiction I have tried to deal with the contradictions thrown up in this era of rapid, intense transformation from a traditional culture guided by spiritual values to the rampantly consumerist Thailand we know today, and where in recent years I have seen more unhappiness and dissatisfaction than ever before, and most of all the anger of unrealised desire and ambition. It is this anger that I see unleashed by cynical politicians.

As I write the yellows are surrounding government house in Bangkok while the reds, who support the Pheu Thai, surround the capital waiting to be given their marching orders. Both groups have weapons. If the leaders on either side put a foot wrong we will see massive bloodshed. It is time for anyone who loves the country as much as they claim to put their ideological differences aside and take the risk of listening with their hearts. If they can do so perhaps they will realise that the hurt and fear and frustration that they hear are reflections of their own feelings, and perhaps this recognition will be the basis of the way forward together. In the meantime, I can only nurture my fragile dream of democracy and pray that love of peace, honesty and good sense prevail.