Friday, September 30, 2011

Which part of history do you want to delete?

Despite the promise of a more inclusive government after Pheu Thai Party’s overwhelming victory in the election, national reconciliation doesn’t seem to be at hand.
Bipartisanship isn’t going to be the order of the day. Political appointments as rewards for “services rendered” and reshuffling of government officials that is based on personal loyalty rather than meritocracy may in fact make any talk of conciliatory attempts less credible.
Extreme proposals from both sides of the fence could in fact make things worse. Even a sweeping amnesty for both the reds and yellow shirts won’t reduce mutual suspicion.
Suspicion that every move by the government and its supporters is aimed at helping absolve Thaksin Shinawatra from guilt will intensify the conflict.
The controversial proposal from a group of seven academics of Thammasat University’s Law Faculty to “go back to Square One” by nullifying the Sept 19, 2006 coup and all its subsequent actions is a case in point.
The academics insist with great determination that they are simply campaigning for “people’s democracy” and that their move is in no way related to Thaksin.
But critics are quick to point out that the very idea of riding the “time machine” to return to the pre-coup situation and to consider everything related to the putsch null and void has inevitably revived the split in society yet again.
The proposal’s very brief concept is to reject the coup as illegal and therefore legal actions should be taken to arrive at the conclusion that the coup never happened. And there were no valid subsequent laws to legitimize it.
The pro-government elements welcomed the proposal almost immediately. They suggested that all the agencies set up by the coup leaders should be retroactively revoked, including the committee that decided to seize Thaksin’s assets.
That would automatically mean that all the verdicts by the Constitutional Court and Criminal Court for Political Position Holders against Thaksin and those concerned must necessarily be cancelled.
Those against the idea jumped on the proposal with a vengeance. They argued that the coup, whether they like it or not, was considered, as had been Thailand’s political tradition all along, legalised once a new constitution was drawn up, passed by the legislative body and even went through a public referendum.
They also contended that if the 2006 coup was to be declared null and void, what about the coups before that one? And if one were to take that line of argument to its logical and legalistic conclusion, the recent election that put Yingluck Shinawatra in the prime minister’s seat would also be considered unconstitutional. That could really turn into a real political mess.
In a sense though the “extreme” proposal from the “Seven Wise Men” does have its legal logic. If coup was illegal, umdemocratic and set a bad example for military officers with political ambition, then the latest act of forceful takeover must be dealt with in such a dramatic manner that no armed elements would ever dare think of staging another military takeover against a popularly elected government ever again.
But then, one can also argue that you just can’t turn the clock back and wave a magic wand to make bad things disappear from the history of the country just like that. The coup after all did take place. Bad things did happen. And if another group of people assumes power, they could change things around, and order legal actions to be taken against those “illegal acts.” But they can’t issue laws to make things disappear from the pages of history.
In fact, since the coup leader is still alive and in fact serving as the leader of a political party, there must be legitimate ways to sue him, send him to court and in the process all the bad, illegal things could be exposed. For if we were to declare that nothing happened on Sept 19 five years ago, how can we then punish the people who staged that illegal coup -- if we were serious about wiping out a dirty chapter in the country’s political, that is?
Come to think of it, if we really possessed that magic wand and could go back in time to make certain things disappear from our past, I would rather use it (provided that we could only use it once) to declare that the five years of severe social conflicts didn’t happen at all.
A huge blank of that part of our history would be much preferable to a period covering half of decade of dangerous, calamitous confrontations.
If things were really that simple...

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