Sunday, November 16, 2008

At end of the day, change is all that remains constant

Thongbai Thongpao

'Change has come to America,'' Barack Obama declared in his victory speech after learning of the presidential election results on Nov 4.

He couldn't have been more right. A new page has been turned in American history. The world superpower has its first black president. The US has done it again, stunning the world with its boundless capacity to embrace change. Starting Jan 20 next year, a black man will be in charge at the White House.

With Mr Obama at the helm, I hope America will give up its hard-ball foreign policy game in which violence is seen as a way to peace. I hope Americans will no longer have to worry about their children fighting in remote countries.

Let's hope the US begins to show its muscle in more constructive ways _ by supplying aid, food and knowledge to people in Third World countries, rather than bullets, guns, ammunition, tanks and warships. I also hope the president-elect will cause people around the world to view Americans as friends rather than foes, and I hope the term ''Ugly American'' will be a thing of the past.

As the late US historian Henry S Commager rightly put it: ''Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change.''

The US seems to be changing for the better. How about the rest of the world, and how about Thailand?

Over the years, Thailand has seen its fair share of change, but not necessarily for the better. For example, we passed a law in 2007 in the hope of putting an end to domestic violence, particularly against children and women, but after one year things have yet to improve.

Newspapers reported last week that a teacher at a Bangkok school faced a lawsuit for hitting a student in the head with her high-heeled shoe because he was slow to answer her question. Judging from the wound, she will have a hard time fighting the case.

On the same day, Thai Rath daily reported on a joint statement by a number of foundations and organisations which affirmed the number of cases involving domestic violence has increased. The statement said that both the police and the people lacked understanding of the new law. The statement also urged for a ministerial regulation on domestic violence as soon as possible and acceleration of the establishment of provincial centres to prevent such violence.

The statement cited statistics from 297 provincial hospitals last year, which show that 19,088 children, women and senior citizens came to receive treatment for injuries inflicted on them.

What's most disturbing is the statistics point to an upward trend. The Friends of Women Foundation said it normally receives around 1,500 complaints of violence against women each year. But this year it has so far received 1,600 cases, 80% of which involve domestic violence.

But we did see some change for the better in Thailand last week. On Wednesday the front pages of all newspapers were splashed with headlines about the National Anti-Corruption Commission's decision to press charges against those involved in the purchase of fire trucks by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA), which took place late in 2002. Among those in the line of fire are several high-ranking politicians from the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai party, including Samak Sundaravej, Bhokin Polakul, Wattana Muangsuk and Pracha Maleenont, as well as Apirak Kosayothin from the Democrat Party.

Since he was the BMA governor at the time of the announcement, Mr Apirak resigned from his post the following day. It remains to be seen how the case will be decided, but the prosecution, as well as Mr Apirak's resignation, has raised the bar for conscience and ethics among Thai politicians, areas which have been sadly lacking in the past.

Earlier this week the government of the United Kingdom, known for its high ethical standards, revoked the visas of Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife, Khunying Potjaman. For its part, Thailand should also think about better upholding the rule of law. If justice does exist, those who have committed crimes must be punished by law.

Several days earlier, a group of people had urged for the revocation of Thaksin's official passport, but no answer has been forthcoming from the government.

Actually, this shouldn't be necessary. A diplomatic passport is issued to government officials while they are in office. As a standard practice, when they expire, the holders will be warned that they no longer have the right to use them.

Change is inevitable, and it would be nice if everyone accepted this fact. I hope the country will change from chaos to peace soon.

Those resisting change and peace will be left behind.

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