I have been watching the situation in Thailand with some interest. Not much though. It\’s not like I follow every movement of each group minute by minute on the web. But I have been trying to make sense of it all.
What people do not seem to pay much attention to is the fact that Thailand is in a period of great transition which cannot be stopped. You might want to call it \’historical inevitability.\’ This sounds really Hegelian and idealistic, but it\’s true. Let me tell why.
First of all you have to take a wider picture. The current conflict in Thailand is not really about clashing personalities. Contrary to what is being portrayed in most mainstream media. The root cause of the conflict is not about the struggle between Thaksin and whoever that wants to bury him, but it goes much deeper. As long as this root cause is not addressed, we can\’t even hope to find an end to this conflict. It will just go on and on, and in the end the people will prevail, just as is the case in other countries who have experienced the same thing.
So what is the root cause? What the red shirted populace who came out in hundreds of thousands really want is actually not that Thaksin be back to power. Thaksin is only a front man in the struggle. He symbolizes something that the people really want, which has been denied them since the coup d\’etat in September 2006. They want to be able to govern themselves fully as mature people who are able to take care of themselves. This looks easy, but still those who traditionally are the power holders do not see this point. Either they know this deep down, but are blinded by their own self interests, or they perhaps sincerely believe that the people are children who need to be taken care of by the bureaucrats and the traditional power mechanism. Either way it does not face up to reality.
I know this is true when I look at what the red shirts are doing and are talking among themselves. It\’s like the people taking matters into their own hands. It is of course true that they are led by a handful core leaders with close ties to Thaksin and that there might be behind the door negotiations going on (I can\’t verify this because I am not in the intelligence community). But the fact that they have arisen spontaneously and are organizing in many provinces almost throughout the kingdom (even in the South, the traditional stronghold of the conservative yellow shirts) give us plenty of cause for optimism. It\’s an optimism born from the realization that democracy has now taken a firm root in Thailand, and Thai people do not want anything else, such as being told what to do and what to believe.
The traditional power mechanism has consistently said that true democracy cannot be established in Thailand because the people do not know how to distinguish \”good\” and \”bad\” politicians. But they have said this for more than seven decades, and one is at one\’s wit\’s end to find out exactly when in the future that will cease to be the case. What is emerging now with the red shirt phenomenon is that they are quite fed up with the way things are in the country. Those who are more attached to personalities naturally talk about Thaksin, but what they really want is not Thakin himself in person, but what he stands for in their eyes. And if Thaksin does not deliver that, they will vote him out of office in no time.
And this is what is beautiful about democracy. The people govern themselves; nobody is like a child who needs to be chaperoned. The way to get Thaksin, or any politician for that matter, in or out is through the voting booths. But what has happened in Thailand during these past three years has been otherwise. That contributed to the people\’s disillusionment and their coming out in hundreds of thousands to the streets of Bangkok and other provinces today.
Thai people today are much more knowledgeable and sophisticated than just a few decades ago. The policy of successive governments in mass education, and especially the spread of information and communication technologies contributed a great deal. Mobile phones and the web are used very effectively in co-ordinating and mobilizing forces, in such a way that it\’s not conceivable just a few years ago. There\’s no use for the authorities to lock away information or to feed the people sugar-coated half-true information as they perhaps did in the past, nowadays information spreads widely, thanks to the internet and the effective policy at closing the digital divide.
So what is happening right now is that the gap between those in urban areas and the countryside is closing fast. Thai people in general have become more and more middle class. So the argument that the poor peasant can\’t think for themselves will not be viable any more, only because they are no more poor peasants any longer. Those who still don\’t believe that need only to go to one of the provinces and see for themselves.
So all this is an encouraging sign. The current government has to listen to the people otherwise their days will be numbered. The demonstrations which started in late March and which has carried on until today is just one episode in the series of changes that will happen and will eventually change Thailand to the core. This will not sound so frightening to those who are used to the old ways, because information and ideas have their canny ways of going toward the insides of people, changing them from within. For those who watch Thailand, this is a fascinating time.
In the meantime, let us hope that there is no violence. They say that Thailand is being protected by a Buddhist deity. I believe this, and the deity is keeping a very watchful eye over us.