The thug (L) and his name caller (R): Would Hun Sen do the same with his compatriots? (Photo: TNA)
Bad choice of words is not really a crime
The Nation (Thailand)
Thailand's opposition party hit foreign minister Kasit Piromya with everything but the kitchen sink yesterday (March 19) for having gone up on the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stage to attack fugitive leader Thaksin Shinawatra and for calling Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen a thug.
Their argument is that because of these actions Kasit should never have been chosen to be one of the country's top diplomats because Thailand's international standing and ties with Cambodia were being compromised
To be fair, the opposition has a point. After all, Kasit is not an ordinary citizen. He is a retired diplomat whose postings include prominent capitals such as Moscow, Tokyo and Washington.
Still, if we deem freedom of speech one of the strong points in our society, we shouldn't be so hard on Kasit. After all, he did not hold any official posts when he went on the PAD stage.
Like many of us, Kasit was frustrated with the fact that Hun Sen was spinning the Preah Vihear (temple) fiasco for political gain, all the while overlooking its consequences.
The long-time Cambodian leader was issuing an ultimatum to Thailand to pull its troops out of the border area, though he did not spell out the consequences should the country not acquiesce in his demand.
Kasit yesterday turned the tables on the then-government of Somchai Wongsawat, suggesting that the administration had been dumbstruck and done nothing after the ultimatum was issued and he had gone on the PAD stage as an individual with every right to attack Hun Sen.
Both Thailand's and Cambodia's focus was on the disputed ancient Preah Vihear temple. People on both sides of the border had something to say. Sadly, most of the statements were self-serving, with some cruel and unkind to the point of bad taste.
The atmosphere along the ill-defined border became tense. Soldiers who had been eating and drinking together for years suddenly became anxious and at times even exchanged gunfire.
It was election time in Cambodia, and as in Thailand, politicians say all sorts of things while campaigning. Hun Sen was no different in that respect.
But this is no excuse for Kasit's choice of words. We are not saying bad taste is a crime; we're saying it has consequences.
Still, months have gone by, and Kasit is now the country's foreign minister. And while they may be part of the same stage performance, both Hun Sen and Kasit know what has to be done to move on.
Surely a veteran statesman, who rose from the Khmer Rouge rank and file to become one of the longest-serving premiers in Southeast Asia, Hun Sen knows that there is no use in crying over spilt milk. But while Kasit and Hun Sen decided to turn the page, it's funny how the opposition - a bunch of people who are so "concerned" about the country's international standing as well as its bilateral ties with neighbouring Cambodia - did not think twice about digging up that incident.
The debate on whether Kasit crossed the line with his choice of words will continue for some time to come, though the onus really is on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who gave him the Cabinet position.
The opposition came out strong on Thursday (March 19) evening attacking Kasit but they performed poorly when countering him yesterday despite the fact that they may have a solid case against him.
Still, we believe that essentially it should be Kasit's performance that defines him. It's a little too early to see if his performance at the foreign ministry has been a success. But so far, his appearance on the PAD stage has not proved to be an obstacle for Thailand's international relations. Most in the international community would prefer to see Thailand move on and get back on track. Kasit also deserves some credit for helping steer the government in the right direction.
Besides Kasit and the PAD, the opposition also tried to capitalise on the fact that hundreds of Thai Muslims heading for Mecca had been stranded at Suvarnabhumi Airport when the protesters besieged it. Naturally, the opposition was blaming the PAD and blasting the Democrat Party for not stopping some of its members from lending their names to the alliance's causes.
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is the Democrat Party being censured, not the PAD.
More importantly, if the incident of Muslim pilgrims being stranded tells us anything, it is the resilient nature of Thailand. For a brief moment, the entire kingdom was united in the common belief that there are some things out there that transcend politics.
Yes, both the Somchai administration and the PAD could have done more in terms of logistics for those who were headed on the sacred journey. Nevertheless, the two battling forces, as well as the people of this nation, acknowledged the sanctity of the pilgrimage itself. Coming from a Buddhist nation, this is something we should all be proud of.
The task at this point in time, it seems, is to look beyond this political mess and place the nation's interest above self-serving agendas of some politicians.