Guarded optimism marked the opening of a two-day seminar on Saturday in Bangkok, where participants are discussing how to create a more tolerant citizenry willing to listen and move toward reconciliation.
The event is the work of the Platform for Peaceful and Democratic Thailand, organised by Mahidol University's Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies and sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Its members have been summarising discussions on social and political issues held with red- and yellow-shirt supporters in regions across the country.
The regional dialogues have resulted in some common goals for Thailand's future democratic path. Participants have identified core issues including a participatory constitutional amendment process, promotion of equality and dignity of the people, education for human security, and decentralisation.
To some extent the seminar organisers are making a leap of faith. They are presuming that supporters of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) are willing to listen to each other and work toward national reconciliation.
The event began in a spirit of goodwill, with artists Wasant Sitthiket and Visa Khanthap chanting verses before regional representatives shared the summaries of their discussions.
Gothom Araya, a Mahidol University lecturer and mastermind of the project, said the dialogue had focused on both participatory processes and content outcomes, in the hope that a way forward could be seen.
Pongthep Thepkanjana, tipped to be education minister in the next cabinet reshuffle, said the forum was facilitating efforts to defuse conflicts, forge education for a more just society, and pursue the desired constitution.
"It seems the way forward is a participatory approach to whatever issues arise, including the charter amendment," he said.
"Perhaps the so-called people's assembly on the constitution could emerge and this should be considered complementary to the ongoing parliament undertakings."
In legal terms, he said, parliament was in no rush to make a final decision on the pending charter amendment.
"[Speeding up] this issue would largely depend on the people's sentiments," said the Pheu Thai Party deputy leader.
Mirror Foundation president Sombat Boonngamanong said political polarisation had been easing, but the mode of waging war was not yet over.
It would take time, said Mr Sombat, but right now those who pushed violence were moving into the background. The way forward is to support sensible and non-violent promoters from within the two camps to emerge and shape the future of engagement.
Gen Vaipot Srinual, senior adviser to the National Strategy Development Centre, said nationwide networking (like the one mobilised through the Platform for Peaceful and Democratic Thailand) was beneficial to the people's movement but there was still no single workable system to integrate all ideas.
"It's a good process, like what has been undertaken in the past few years by the Anand and Prawase panels, yet the efforts could not bring about strategic solutions to the national problem since any government and any political party has been interested only in mobilising and maintaining its power base, not coming up with structural solutions," said the retired general.
Perapong Pairin, a senior specialist with the Election Commission, said the forum was good preparation for networking but a synchronised strategy for structural solutions had yet to emerge.
"Various agencies such as the EC or local administrative organisations and civil society are entitled or designed to embark on democratisation, but we lack a national strategy and mechanism on how to go about it," said Mr Perapong.
Thewin Akkharasilachai, director of the Association for Community and Ecology Development, said grassroots people now wanted decentralisation from the national administration.
"The issue of Red-Yellow polarisation is somewhat a product of centralised politics," said the Chiang Mai native. "But the people, particularly from the North, have moved to their own issues like natural resources management and localised administration."