วันศุกร์ที่ 21 พฤษภาคม พ.ศ. 2553

Time to reflect and pick up the pieces

The cut is deep. The wound is hard to heal. The morning after seems surreal. Never before has Bangkok been in such shock. Newspaper headlines with large blown up pictures stirred emotions of sadness and anger. How did we bring ourselves to this point? When is it going to end? Throughout the events of the last few days I watched the news in despair, with events taking a turn for the worse every time some breaking news break was being reported from the various places in Bangkok, from the tensions of the confrontation, the rhetoric from both the government and the red shirts, to the shootings, looting and burning of buildings.

I made phone calls to friends in the area, worried about their safety, then checked news with sources who were as confused as I was. All the while I received calls from various people who felt I may have an explanation or who wanted me to analyse the ongoing situation – each of us desperately trying to make sense of what happened and what went wrong.

The night was even worse. The curfew declared was, of course, necessary to enable crowd control, to cool hot heads and to prevent opportunistic looters.

But it also made rumours fly and journalists blind. The cyber world was infested with rumours. One that stood out was the shootings at Patumwanaram Temple, a declared safety zone lodged between Paragon and Central World, the two largest shopping malls at the centre of the red shirts’ rally site.

Six bodies were found in the morning but rumours claimed more existed, while police believed there were bombs rigged around the area. And who were the shooters? They could have been from the army, the unidentified militia, or red shirt guards, depending on who you talk to. The “truth” is according to the perspective of who is telling and where their sympathies lie.

I sincerely do not know whom to believe, without a neutral party to prove the worthiness of information conveyed. There are more stories coming out and careful judgement is needed.

Events in the next few days remain unstable not only in Bangkok but also in the outer provinces, especially in the Isan Northeast and the North, the red shirts’ stronghold. Government buildings have been burnt down and protest rallies are widespread. Some have told me, sadly, that the worse is yet to come.

All the while, the blame game will definitely intensify. I did not have to look far beyond my Facebook and Twitter where I have friends from across the political spectrum, yellow, red, neutral, Prime Minister Abhisit-lovers and haters; apart from my school buddies and business colleagues, who also hold their own political views. Only my friends abroad who are concerned for my safety seem politically neutral.

A lot of people thought that since I share the PM’s last name, I could convey him a message: to resign or to give him encouragement; to blame him for using force, or to support him in crushing the red shirts; to chastise the army for the sniper killings or to condemn the burnings by the rioters. Some knew that I used to be with Thai Rak Thai Party and served in the cabinet of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra; similar messages were sent in from both sides.

Many have started to blame one another on the political views expressed.

In many instances the language turned ugly.

Luckily, there have also been opinions expressed with reason and not emotion, from both sides. That at least gives me hope among the on-going insanity.

How did we get to this point? If I start answering the question, again either side will have their rationale and blame the other.

Events told will be countered by other events that prove otherwise. Was it because of PM Abhisit’s stubbornness that made the government decide to use force and not go along with the senators’ last negotiation offer, eventually leading to the carnage? Or was it because of ex-premier Thaksin’s stubbornness: since he did not get what he wanted, he ordered the red shirts not to disperse, giving the government no choice but to begin their containment operation which led to the red shirts burning down buildings? The opinions are already formed and are hardening with each turn of events and they cut deeper into a wound that is unlikely to heal in the near future.

But although it is hard to imagine so amidst the anger and pain, the healing process must begin immediately. National reconciliation must start even as there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Action must be taken before the political division reaches the point of no return. And this requires both sides to come back to the negotiating table.

PM Abhisit’s 5-point reconciliation plan must continue to be the centrepiece in putting the country back together. The government must be sincere and work hard in reaching out to the various groups and institutions, especially those anti-government ones, to join. The rhetoric, whatever the intelligence says about “terrorists”, must be toned down. Attempts to monopolise television news, blacking out news reporting independence, like on Wednesday night, must be avoided. Press freedom will help, not hurt, the government; but the opposite will not.

In addition, the government either on its own or even better, through Parliament or the Human Rights Commission, must set up an independent committee as a fact finding body to clear up the doubts and rumours of what has occurred.

The process must not be interfered with and the results must not be used in the political blame game. But the wrongdoers must be punished in accordance with the law.

On the red shirts’ side, a call for law and order must be respected. As all the red shirts leaders are in jail, ex-premier Thaksin must help bring back sense to his sympathisers. The opposition Puea Thai Party MPs must use their network to halt, not to encourage, violent protest rallies. They must become the medium in trying to return to the use of parliamentary channels in resolving the crisis.

With the tremendous loss of life, property and the prevalent anxious state of mind of all Thais, the two conflicting parties must bury the hatchet and start to pick up the pieces in a process to heal the nation.