From the onset of the coup in 2006, politics, and the figure of Thaksin Shinawatra remains a deeply polarising issue in Thailand. In November 2012, Thaksin was invited to speak in Cambridge. As the then president of the Cambridge Thai Society, I had observed a noticeable divide amongst the Thais. Though I glad to say that we've managed to act in a civilised manner towards each other, I felt we all held strong personal stances on the issue - we only discussed the talk amongst peers we felt had a similar stance to ours.
Fast forward to 2014, a similar situation is occurring in Thailand. We are only voicing our true political beliefs with those of the same ideals. We have a tendency to listen to news sources that are aligned to our ideologies, leaving us susceptible to exploitation by their biased-ness, such as Bluesky, DNN and UDD, egging us on to mistrust others not on the same side, categorising them into one homogenised outgroup. We have a propensity of not truly listening to opposing ideologies and moreover, we are not properly communicating to the other side.
The people of Thailand must start listening to multiple sides of the situation otherwise the cycle of polarised masses will continue. Simply ignoring opposing opinions and labelling them as 'propaganda' while solely listening to 'friendly' opinions without checking its validity will further deepen the political chasm. In the end, this ignorance leaves us unable to critically analyse misinformation from valid information. For example, few people actually understand Thailand's system of government such as our voting rights and the senate selection committee, or the underlying principles for our economic policies concerning public debt, taxation and government budgeting. Despite our ignorance, we still accuse one another of supporting corrupting regimes; but if we cannot see the whole picture, how can we pass judgement on the situation with any confidence?
The anti-government PDRC must accept the existence of the Pheu Thai coalition and try not to "purge" them from the country, as it cannot be realistically achieved. Pheu Thai must accept the influence and opinions of the PDRC as a significant player. However, in order to achieve true stability and peace, they must not only seek acceptance but also start to work with rivals. The reality of the situation is difficult, as any group or leader who starts to open dialogue may be viewed as weak and compromising, but it is a step that must be taken if Thailand wants to rid itself of this polarising quagmire.
It is not only in the upper echelons of both organizations that this must take place, but down to the very roots - the people down at the protests to the rural voters. Everyone must start to engage and talk to opposition, as that is how progress is forged.
Perhaps a starting point would be ironing out the differences in our ideals on democracy. Instead of churning out more sensational news pieces centred on asking protesters of both sides on whether they 'believed in democracy', a more sensible question the media can ask is what the different groups of Thais define democracy to be. Do the PDRC protesters believe that they are victims of a systematic discrimination wrought by a tyranny of the majority? Does the pro-government movement think that voting is the single most defining feature of a democratic system? What are the tolerance levels for corruption within our governments?
We have seen the consequences of failure to achieve open dialogue before in Thailand, whether it is the bloodshed in the 2010 riots or the start of the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand. All had lasting consequences that is still shaking our country's foundation. We all want peace. But a question still stands - have we put in enough reciprocal dialogue to warrant the start of such a process?
This article is a joint effort with Krit Sitathani.