Friday, November 25, 2011

Flood panels should incorporate reconciliation process

This inundation “crisis” hasn’t created the reconciliation “opportunity.” On the other hand, the flooding may have in more ways than one deepened the conflict between the political factions in the country.
And for a day or two, the proposed pardon decree considered in a confidential session by the Cabinet last Tuesday in which Premier Yingluck Shinawatra was conspicuously absent threatened to neutralize all previous efforts at reconciliation. It wasn’t until former Premier Thaksin delivered a hand-written note from Dubai declaring his intention “to sacrifice my personal happiness in favour of national reconciliation” on Sunday that a looming new political confrontation was averted.
This state of thinly veiled showdown between those for and against Thaksin can’t be allowed to continue indefinitely if we were to return to any normalcy – and can really make post-crisis Thailand work as any civilized nation should.
The Truth Commission for National Reconciliation under Dr Kanit na Nakhon has been working quietly behind the scenes to bring about better understanding among the various factions within Thai society. It has so far laid the foundation of trust. It needs to get the facts of the violent incidents in the past years to the surface and, without pointing accusing fingers at any particular party, ensure that justice is done. It is also crucial that “transitional justice” is effectively implemented for the next step of reconciliation to be taken.
I see flickers of hope in the two flood-related committees appointed by Premier Yingluck to turn the natural disaster into a national recovery and reconciliation.
The two committees are: Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development (SCRF) headed by Dr Virabongsa Ramangkura and Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management (SCWRM) led by Dr Sumet Tantivejkul. The two panels comprise people of influence and reputation. They are supposed to be working on both the business of recovery and the tough task of planning for the future that would prevent this year’s major disaster from recurring.
But how could national reconstruction and future water resource management be taken seriously as “national strategies” that involve all segments of society if the country continues to be plagued by political divisiveness?
This could well be another rare window of opportunity for the two “wise men” to turn their non-political roles into some significant social contributions by reaching out to all groups of divergent political shades to get them to join in the nation-rebuilding effort.
There is little doubt that Yingluck was hoping that the appointments of the two reputable figures would strengthen the government’s anti-flood campaign but, more significantly, would also offer a major boost in political goodwill. Dr Virabongsa and Dr Sumet belong to no political factions and , as “experienced technocrats,” could enhance the premier’s credibility at a critical juncture.
The two can thus make a highly significant contribution to national reconciliation by appointing subcommittees that comprise people from all walks of life representing not only experts, business leaders but also the flood victims from various provinces whose views towards the powers-that-be are as diverse as the red-yellow divide that has plagued the country for the past several years.
The two panels have been promised non-interference by the political authorities and they are in a good position to bargain with a government that badly needs good, strong political props from non-political technocrats ready to risk their personal reputation by answering the “Help-Me-Please” calls from the premier.
If their mission isn’t confined to just helping the government tide over the flood, the two technocrats should seize this opportunity to assume the badly-needed role of “national reconciliator” by setting up broad-based working groups to brainstorm for ideas to cement efforts to rebuild Thai society in the post-crisis era.
It is sad but true. Without a real natural crisis, the political divide may never be bridged. Left to the politicians, one political crisis has only led to another without any hope of a real reconciliation in sight

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