Red-shirt backing of reconciliation with junta

The leader of Thailand’s red shirts has offered support to the junta’s controversial reconciliation schemes, on the condition principles of justice and equality are followed.  

On 21 January 2017, Jatuporn Prompan, the leader of the anti-establishment United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), voiced the movement’s support for the junta’s hurtling efforts to bridge conflict between opposing factions in Thai politics.

The junta’s policies have included the recent formation of a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), and plans to draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between all political wings.

“We are ready to support the NCPO’s reconciliation schemes and co-operate such as by signing the MOU. We’ll do whatever the junta desires provided it abides by the principles of justice and equality. However in the absence of these principles, elections in the future will still be rife with problems,” said Jatuporn. 

Jatuporn’s statement was made on a panel under the theme of ‘Reconciliation’ convened by Peace TV in conjunction with the UDD on 21 January 2017.

Jatuporn Prompan (centre) at the panel under the theme of ‘Reconciliation’ aired on Peace TV on 21 January 2017

Yet the military-dominated nature of bodies such as the NRC risks jeopardising the UDD’s support for reconciliation, which Jatuporn emphasises is contingent on the junta earnestly pursuing justice.

“Our group doesn’t want Thailand to live in a whirlpool of conflict …  but 100 per cent, [the reconciliation process] will involve soldiers and generals who will raise no objections. Because in the end those in power make the decisions.”

Jatuporn also called upon those leading the reconciliation schemes to draw upon the country’s past attempts at resolving political conflict, rather than repeating the same mistakes again.

“For a long time, Thailand has seen numerous initiatives and studies on reconciliation. But in the end, they’re all “stored away in the filing cabinet” ... How do we make these a reality in a meaningful way? I don’t want the current reconciliation efforts to be forgotten in the filing cabinet as in the past.”

Kotom Areeya, a panelist from Mahidol University’s Institute for Human Rights and Peace, also argues that reconciliation requires dialogue, rather than suppressing memories, about the past.

“Looking into the past, and being conscious of the present, is necessary to look into the future.”

But unravelling the past, Kotom continued, will require greater freedoms of opinion than Thailand presently offers. Open dialogue may require conditional amnesties for certain political actors so that their experiences can be shared without fear of prosecution.

“We have to talk about politics, because we have been fighting for ten years about politics. We have to open the floor to the people at a grassroots level … When we have problems of politics, we have to solve them with politics — not with force. Reconciliation is a matter of accepting compromise. The key concept here is ‘dialogue’: exchange, listening and an absence of monopolies.”  

According to Kotom, political conflict in Thailand stems from three sources. First, society is made up of different ideologies and points of views. Second, there are actions based on these ideologies. Third, rhetoric is at times exploited to mobilise conformity. Kotom pointed out that distorted conceptions of ‘democracy’ have previously sparked conflict in the country.  

To address these causes of conflict, Kotom offered three recommendations for the process of reconciliation. First, conflicting parties should exchange views with each other, such as at a round table, to co-operatively solve problems. Second, democracy must be built deeply at a grass roots level. Third, relationships across differing political views must be built in order to foster reconciliation among the middle class.

Kotom stressed further that the geographical, historical and cultural bases of political divisions must be studied. For example, the anti-election movement the People’s Democratic Reform Council (PDRC) maintains strongholds in Thailand’s South while the UDD is supported more widely in the Northeast. Examining these factors will shed insight to why the country appears divided between factions of red and yellow.

Despite the UDD’s support, the junta’s reconciliation program has drawn criticism and boycotting from other groups. Included in the regime’s detractors are the PDRC, formerly among the junta’s most ardent supporters.

Still, despite the UDD’s tense relationship with the junta, Jatuporn maintains reconciliation is a cause worth a shot.

“No matter what happens, we [different political groups] have to meet each other on equal footing. I want this attempt at reconciliation to be the last try. If we can build bridges across the Chaopraya River, surely can achieve real reconciliation!”