Time to reconcile, before it's too late

Time to reconcile, before it's too late
An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag as riot policemen stand guard outside the Constitutional Court in Bangkok.

Though Thailand's economy has been expanding since 2006, it is worth noting that we would almost certainly be far more prosperous without our seemingly endless series of protests.

According to World Bank data, Thailand's gross domestic product of US$366 billion (S$460 billion) is up 76.8 per cent on our $207 GDP of 2006. It sounds impressive, until you compare it with our neighbours' growth. Singapore showed a 97.8 per cent GDP increase during the same period (from $139 billion to $275 billion), while Malaysia showed a 111 per cent increase ($144 billion to $304 billion), and Indonesia a 140.5 per cent increase ($364.57 billion to $878 billion).

One of the key factors in Thailand's relatively poor performance is political conflicts, mainly centred on the figure of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006. However, the coup failed to end political grievances, which have grown with each side's intransigence and culminated in the massive protests we are seeing now.

The cycle of a refusal to compromise, leading to confrontation, must end here and now. It is time for politicians to reconcile, before the country sinks into a violent situation that cannot be salvaged.

The no-confidence debate is a good start. Opposition MPs should bring hard evidence to support their grievances, instead of launching another war of words that will only fuel anger on both sides.

Strong evidence, particularly concerning the huge losses involved with the rice-pledging scheme and the lack of clarity in the 350-billion-baht water-management scheme, should give ruling-coalition MPs reasons to reconsider their strategies. Examples of such reasoned non-partisan parliamentary debate are available all over the world. In the US, not all Democrat congressmen supported "Obamacare", and not all Republicans were against it. They based the debate over the healthcare scheme on facts. Also, a firm belief in the democratic system meant there was no call for President Barack Obama to resign for the shutdown of government after a budget shortfall, or even for the poor start of Obamacare. Voters will get to decide who is to blame when the next presidential election arrives.

Likewise, Thai politicians should see it as their duty as lawmakers to uphold high ethical standards. Only those laws that are thoroughly reviewed and fair will seem just to everyone. The ruling-coalition parties' pledge not to revisit the controversial amnesty bill is a good example. They have learnt that their majority in Parliament does not override the principle of fairness.

This should remind all those in authority to stick by ethical standards, including individuals in charge of agencies such as the Constitutional Court.

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