by Kantathi Suphamongkhon
Originally published in the Bangkok Post, April 24, 2009
The hate campaign in Thailand, which started in 2005 and intensified in 2008, has been successful and has polarised Thai society to an unprecedented degree. It is time to reset Thailand's domestic politics before it is too late.
It was frightening then to notice that the themes and the words used were similar to the ones used in Rwanda, which led to genocide in that country 15 years ago.
The success of the hate campaign owed much to the round-the-clock live television, broadcasting and reaffirming hate messages.
This was supplemented by demonstrations and rallies, including the occupation of Government House and the closure of international airports by demonstrators wearing yellow shirts, members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), determined to bring down an elected government.
The PAD has called for a parliament to be dominated by appointed, rather than elected, members.
These events sent a strong message that illegal acts, detrimental to Thailand's national interest and with the aim of bringing down elected governments, are acceptable in Thailand.
The military did not react to enforce the law against the "yellow shirts."
Earlier this month, following the examples set by the yellow shirts, an opposing group of people, members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), wearing red shirts, took to the streets to demand a return of full democracy to Thailand.
A regional summit was abruptly cancelled as a result, and this time, the military reacted swiftly to enforce the law against the "red shirts."
Opposing groups in Thailand now see the situation as a "zero sum game," in which if one side wins, the other side loses. With this attitude, there is no possibility of a settlement with mutual gains.
As events developed following the coup, many Thais became convinced that there is a double standard in Thailand in which members of one side can break the law with impunity while members of the other side are subjected to maximum punishment.
Both sides used strong personal attacks on key personalities, resorting to emotional accusations. In this way, action leads to reaction, escalating into violence.
The situation is grim, and there is real potential for things to get worse, leading Thais into the abyss together.
How can we put an end to this escalation of conflict?
The only way out that I can see is to borrow the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as she met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On that occasion, mindful of deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States, she proposed pressing the "reset button." I now say, it is time to press the reset button for Thailand.
A fresh start for Thailand is needed urgently. This means nothing less than the immediate change in assumptions and attitudes for all sides, followed immediately by constructive action.
I want to see the day when all Thais can walk proudly together, wearing whatever colour shirts we like, uniting together in a just society and working together to enable the kingdom to succeed with flying colours under globalisation.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has often emphasised that he is determined to bring about reconciliation by the promotion of justice, democracy and political reform, including the amendment of the constitution.
He said that he would invite all parties concerned to discuss ways for the country to move forward. The formation of a truly impartial and independent body, acceptable to all parties concerned, to help with the reconciliation process would be helpful. It is now time to "reset" Thailand by translating those noble words into concrete actions.
Kantathi Suphamongkhon, a member of Asia Society's International Council, served as foreign minister of Thailand during the administration of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from March 11, 2005 until the military coup d'etat on Sept 19, 2006. He is currently senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations at the University of California in Los Angeles, where he also teaches law and diplomacy.