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จาก Bangkok Post : Time for the regime to face the music

The angry rap song has reopened the wound of October 6, long suppressed but never gone from collective consciousness. (YouTube/Rap Against Democracy)



Finally, the return to democracy has begun. It's raw. It's vulgar. It's controversial. It has also unleashed a rush of polarised opinions. Police are gunning to outlaw it as more people flock to view it online, with over 21 million on YouTube for the music video in question as of yesterday mid-afternoon.

The rap song Prathet Ku Mee (What My Country's Got) is giving Thailand a fresh taste of freedom and defiance. It is not the first example, by all means. But it's one that has apparently caught fire after years of capitulation.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

It's little surprise the angst-ridden song and its subversive lyrics and music video referencing the bloody clash of ideologies during the Oct 6, 1976 massacre of student protesters by state forces at Thammasat University in Bangkok has reopened old wounds. It has also brought to the fore a social schism that may have been suppressed, but has never left the collective consciousness.

The song has sparked a range of emotions: gratification from those who view its lyrics as exposing social ills, and rebuttal from those who pan it as a one-sided narrative that is causing damage to the country. Attacks, counter-attacks, threats, heated debate and irrational refrains are flying around in the wake of What My Country's Got.

It is looking like a mess, probably reminding people of the political conflict and divisiveness that led to the political violence and May 22, 2014 coup. But this is what to expect. Heated debate, controversy and efforts to reassert freedom of speech -- even to the point where society's tolerance may be tested -- are supposed to surface as we inch toward the poll.

If the goal is to embrace democracy once again, we have to face up to the seeming mayhem. The key is to keep in mind that we have to do it better than last time. Whether it's Oct 14, Oct 6, May 17-18, or the recent colour-coded violence, lessons are abundant. Inciting hatred will only lead to clashes and a vicious cycle of military coups. It seems no use for us to revert to the same reaction and fall into the same trap.

What My Country's Got arrived at an opportune time for people to wake up from the artificial "peace and order" of the past four years.

Thai society has never been a uniform one, politically, economically or ideologically. The military regime may have fooled some into believing that authoritarianism has won the day, but the reality is the contest among interest groups upholding different ideals is far from over. Indeed, the conflict will never be completely resolved, but the gist of the matter is that it should never be allowed to boil over and culminate in a crackdown or violent clashes, as in the past.

What is worrying is that given an early taste of what democracy is like, many people are reverting to tricks that have sent society spiraling into the same old loop of extremism already.

What My Country's Got is going viral because it strikes a chord with millions of people who are not blind to what is wrong with society, and who may have experienced this first-hand. And the regime will have to face the music. Despite polls showing how "popular" the top brass is, there are people out there who do not support the military, nor do they agree with its authoritative rule or plans to stay in power long term. The regime doesn't have to like it, but it must respect dissenting voices -- or its promise to return the country to democracy through an election will become meaningless.

Those who have never run into any of these abuses or unfair practices may argue the rappers are painting an incorrect picture of Thailand. They may write another song extolling the country's beauty and value, but it's not healthy for the song's detractors to claim the rappers were hired by malicious political groups, or accuse them of seeking to damage the country.

Patriotism is not always about admiring what the country has. At times, it is about taking the trouble to speak up about its cruelties, its crooks, and all that has been glossed over in the name of political stability. Some worship the regime and others are against it, but both can be equally patriotic.

Another popular reaction to the rappers from coup supporters is to tell them to leave the country. To slam people who disagree with us as being non-Thai, to frame them as not loving the country, is the first step to inciting hatred. We should learn from history that this is the path to violence and unending coups.

The rap song is just the beginning. More will come as the election nears. There is no other choice but to show that what my country's got -- is tolerance.

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