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Buying the way out of Thailand's political crisis
Publication Date : 07-08-2013
If the headline sounds cynical, it isn't meant to be. This is my sincere proposal based on the current political impasse, which seems to be escalating towards a new dangerous confrontation and involves a number of so-called "amnesty" and "reconciliation" bills that are backed to the hilt by some and opposed to the bitter end by others. If you like the idea, helping me spread it would be nice. If you don't, hopefully it could lead to some useful modification at least.
To our knowledge, the amnesty and reconciliation bills are not clear-cut about one of the stickiest points: the money. The 46 billion baht seized from Thaksin Shinawatra has become an elephant in the living room. When people talk about amnesty and reconciliation, it's mostly about whether he will return home a free man, or whether "murderers" or "arsonists" will get away with their crimes. It's never specifically about what we should do with the enormous amount of money piled up tantalisingly in the state coffers.
In my previous article, I asserted that the amnesty scheme being pushed by the government should wait. That's still my belief. True reconciliation is admitting our own guilt and trying to accommodate others' flaws. Only through that can we achieve a real compromise. The prime minister apparently doesn't want to wait, so here's an alternative option.
My proposed compromise is that we should put the money, totally or largely, to charitable use. Let's state in the amnesty and reconciliation bills that the money will, say, be spent on turning around backwater education. The staggering amount can build many high-quality schools or even universities for the poor.
It doesn't have to be just education. Drug abuse is one of Thailand's biggest problems, and the money can do a lot in this regard. Serious sports development programmes can also be launched. All these can be put in the bills.
Let's be creative and buy our way out of the problem. One may argue that it's easy for me to make such a proposal because it's not my money. Well, since the crux of the impasse is the question, "Whose money?", the argument is both justified and tell-tale. With Thailand all but torn apart by the question of whether the money was "stolen" from Thaksin or had been "stolen by" him and then "taken back from" him, why shouldn't we try to find a middle ground for its use?
Here are the benefits:
It will be extremely hard to oppose bills that seek, for example, to build high-grade schools or universities for underprivileged kids all across the country. The money, while it will not head back to the Shinawatras' bank accounts, will pour largely into his political base. A show of generosity and sincerity could unlock other contentious issues in the whole amnesty-reconciliation conflict. Mistrust will lessen and goodwill, hopefully, will seep in to fill the void.
The biggest benefit, however, will be what the money can constructively create, after years of lost opportunities that it has caused. This is not to mention the greater chance of genuine political peace.
Shouldn't some of the money be returned to the Shinawatras? That should be in the details. The point here is that we can't go anywhere when one half of Thailand fears that Thaksin's "reconciliation" goal is getting back the money. Whether he deserves at least some of the fortune - and exactly how much can be debated - everyone should be warned that it's a very sensitive and potentially explosive question. In other words, whether the cake should be split can be considered as long as sincerity can be maintained and old wounds not reopened.
Thaksin never says publicly he wants the money back, and his sister Yingluck even makes it seem like the seized 46 billion baht never existed. Politics dictates that they can never talk about it. But let's be fair and realistic. Human beings always fight over resources. Ideology exists largely to make resources-related brutality a bit bearable.
This proposal is easier proposed than achieved, obviously. But while wars are expensive, bringing peace can be more so, financially speaking at least. Wars are more straightforward because the winners can take all. Peace is a lot trickier, because it can never truly exist if one side appears to take advantage of the other.
It's a mountain to climb. After all, if 1 million baht in 1,000 baht notes is 20 centimetres thick, 46 billion baht looms more than nine kilometres. But we have no choice. Money is how it all began, and we simply can't skirt the issue if the crisis is to be seriously addressed.
US$1 = 31.35 baht