Sunday, March 25, 2012

National reconciliation talks: Mostly lip service

If politics is too important to be left to politicians, then the ongoing “national reconciliation” effort is too crucial to be assigned to parties with their own narrow political agenda.
The much-heralded attempt to reach a national reconciliation formula is stuck in the mud. You can’t move forward because all sorts of roadblocks have been built. You can’t move backward because you will drown in dirty cesspools that had been dug by the politicians themselves.
All the political groups in the face-off have built their own bunkers ready for another protracted confrontation. They have been accumulating their own ammunition for the new battle. If the opposing parties mean what they say, they could pool their respective resources and push the country out of the stalemate.
But if they decide to employ their resources only to win the political battle in a zero-sum game – as if becoming increasingly evident – then disaster is awaiting just around the corner.
Deputy Premier Chalerm Yoobamrung says he has drawn up his own 6-article bill that he describes as a “national reconciliation act.” The House Committee on National Reconciliation, headed by former coup-maker Gen Sonthi Bunyaratakalin, has its own version of a proposal, based on a study submitted by a supposedly “neutral” think tank: King Prajadhipok’s Institute, part of which calls for the abrogation of the agencies set up after the September, 2006 coup.
The study also includes a proposal to grant amnesty to people involved in past political protests.
Some ruling Pheu Thai MPs seem to have welcomed the suggestions but Deputy Premier Chalerm sort of poured cold water on it, saying that the formula won’t lead to national reconciliation because it’s not legally binding. Of course, Chalerm is pursuing his own agenda which may cut across the multitude of steps that needed to be taken before any concrete result to let Thaksin come home soon could be seen.
From another circle, red-shirt leader Thida Tavornseth set down her down condition for any reconciliation. She declared that any move that leaves only the red-shirts guilty of breaking the law wouldn’t be acceptable.
Gen Sonthi himself is highly ambivalent. He may head the House reconciliation committee but he isn’t quite sure where he stands on some of the crucial issues involved. Asked to comment on an idea to grant amnesty to ousted prime minister Thaksin, whose administration was toppled in the coup led by him, the general-turned-politician steadfastly refused to offer his opinion one way or the other. He is in a great dilemma: If he agrees with the concept, he would be accused of backtracking and having staged a “bad coup.” But if he speaks out against the proposal, he would be seen as being against national reconciliation.
The opposition Democrats, meanwhile, have cast doubts all along on the Pheu Thai’s move on reconciliation, arguing that the sole purpose of the acceleration of the legal proceedings in this regard is nothing but to find a legitimate means to help Thaksin come home without having to face any punishment.
Cynics see Chalerm’s proposed bill and the ongoing action to hold an election to form a Constitution Drafting Assembly as a coordinated effort to speed up the former premier’s return – a move that threatens to plunge the country into another round of explosive confrontation.
Of course, the Democrats continue to talk about reconciliation – on their terms. They insist on the “rule of law” and “transparency” meaning that violators of criminal laws must be taken to court and amnesty could be offered only to “political offenders.”
In other words, no middle grounds could be found so far – and the prospect of genuine national reconciliation is getting dimmer by the day.
All that politicians are willing to pay for national reconciliation is, sad to say, mostly “lip service.”

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