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     Volume 7 Issue 47 | November 28, 2008 |

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In a Lost and Confused State

The question is quickly changing from "Can anyone stop it?" to "How bad will it become?" Once again, Thailand is on the brink, but unlike previous alarms, collective anxiety over the new political showdown that will come to the fore tomorrow already has a tragic backdrop.

Lives have been lost, blood has been spilled and, worse yet, we are getting used to things being this way. A growing number of pessimists will answer both questions by saying, "Nobody can stop it" and "It can be really bad". When a political conflict reaches a point where lives are valued differently -- depending on their political ideologies -- it is all but impossible to find a way back to peace.

Following the explosion at Government House early on November 20, which left one dead and several others injured, political web boards have become a depressing read. Many opponents of the People's Alliance for Democracy have said the movement deserved the casualties, while some sympathisers pray for even greater suffering on the other side.

"Civil war" is no longer a word used as an editorial punch line. In fact, the threat has become so real this time that some headline writers have avoided using it. Tomorrow's mass gatherings by political enemies have been planned well, but they will be dictated as much by uncontrollable factors as by manageable ones. And if just a few days of extreme violence were the goal of either side, the plotters are overlooking several factors.

The saddest thing is that everyone believes he is fighting for a good cause. The truth, however, is that the noble ideologies that may have carried the two rival camps this far are giving way to what is becoming a very raw power game.

When lives are risked and malicious schemes are plotted against the enemy, the very core values of democracy are gone, and it becomes almost impossible to tell the good from the evil. If a bloodbath does take place, it will last for just a few days. Thailand's soul, however, can be lost for decades. Such a showdown, no matter how much grief and regression it generates, will become the country's formula for settling any major political impasse in the future.

Constitutions will remain meaningless and so will the three "pillars of democracy" -- the parliament, the government and the judiciary. One school of thought says the current impasse has gone beyond achieving a peaceful solution, so drastic cleansing is unavoidable.

Advocates of this theory do not tell us how we can start anew as a nation after Thais end up having to kill other Thais so the winners can become politically powerful. Calm might return after the losers are washed away, but Thailand will become nothing short of a political volcano in the years to come.

Thailand has already been in a lost and confused state. We couldn't decide whether former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was bad or if the coup was good. We weren't quite certain if dissolving an entire political party for electoral fraud was right or wrong.

The great divide, however, will reach dangerous levels when one thinks that an anti-government protester deserves to die or vice versa. This is how war begins.

First we are made to hate one particular individual, then the hatred slowly spreads to his supporters. Before we know it, we are no longer guided by principles, but instead by rage, lies and revenge.

Then both sides in the rivalry get totally infected and ideological differences dissolve into the ancient raw impulse to win at all costs. For the peace-loving Thais, left standing nervously in the crossfire, there is little they can do. There have been calls for their show of force, but that can easily defeat the objective of containing the "Us" or "Them" mentality. And even when this silent majority chooses not to do anything outrageous to promote their cause, taunts fly from both sides.

It's a sad affair when centrists who don't want to see blood being shed are branded as cowards. An unknown future awaits Thailand, although the "phone-in" and the new PAD march to Parliament will most likely take place.

It seems that many more years of political divide and hatred are inevitable, no matter what events take place tomorrow or next week. Whichever side emerges victorious, the winner will only have won the battle.

All we can hope is that the real loser -- Thailand -- is left with enough strength to move forward so it can one day outgrow Thaksin Shinawatra and his fierce enemies and become whole again.

-- Editorial Desk, The Nation, Thailand. Reprinted with permission.

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