By: Saritdet Marukatat
Published: 16/02/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
There is no better time than this for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to show that he is serious about an attempt to reconcile the country after years of political divisions.
One thing he has to prove is that the PAD does not stand for the People's Alliance for the Democrat party. It really is the People's Alliance for Democracy.
Many people have reasons for that suspicion. The Democrats simply turn a blind eye to party member Somkiat Pongpaibul, who was a frequent speaker for the PAD during its month-long rally to oust then prime ministers Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat. Again, he showed up at the PAD gathering in Udon Thani on Saturday.
Another regular speaker, Kasit Piromya, was rewarded the top position at the Foreign Ministry. The qualifications of Mr Kasit demonstrate he is suited to be foreign minister. But his remarks supporting the PAD rallies to force the closure of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports raised doubts about his suitability.
That could be a reason why the effort to take action against those involved in the airport and Government House seizures is moving at a snail's pace.
The prime minister has stressed on several occasions that the Democrat-led coalition government will use the rule of law to govern the country and try its best to achieve national reconciliation.
The position is now being challenged by the PAD.
It launched an offensive mode on Saturday in the northeastern province of Udon Thani and eyes Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as the next targets. Those three provinces are well known as political bases for the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship and convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The PAD's new strategy is clear. It wants to put an end to Thaksin's influence in those three and other areas. The question is whether it is necessary to do that when the momentum is already shifting against Thaksin's backers.
The government is trying to make people forget about Thaksin by launching a generous populist policy to help them cope with the economic downturn. Puea Thai has no idea how to play the role of opposition in the House. The Democrats' economic team is trying to show that it has the capability to solve the economic problems to dismantle the notion that only Thaksin can do that for this country.
If everything works and goes as planned, people upcountry and in rural areas will gradually forget the magic of Thaksin. Time is on the Democrats' side to do that, given all the backing it has. A chance for the Democrats to win the next election is not far out of reach if its economic policy bears fruit and impresses voters who once believed that nobody was better than Thaksin in the driver's seat of the government.
The PAD has the right to rally wherever it wants to. But the way PAD leaders attacked their rivals, ridiculed the opposition and looked down on people who are not on their side could be a setback for the government's strategy. Their remarks could deepen divisions in the country and provoke more aggressiveness from the UDD instead of letting time heal the rifts.
A possible confrontation looms if the PAD gets carried away with the success of its show of force in Udon Thani and challenges the UDD and Thaksin's backers in the two northern provinces.
Mr Abhisit will err should he decide to sit by idly. The country needs a strong message from the government leader to eliminate all factors that could lead to more political trouble and clashes between those wearing different colours.
There is no magic pill to cure these problems, not even the medicine the PAD wants to force its rivals to swallow.
Saritdet Marukatat is News Editor, Bangkok Post.