Lessons From The Orange And Silk Revolutions

KIEV, Ukraine -- Whatever has happened in the Ukraine since the Orange Revolution in November 2004 has a resonance in Thailand in the past two years, especially after the coup last September.

Tent city on main street Khreshchatyk during the Orange Revolution

After the euphoria of the Orange Revolution, harsh reality set in. After the leaders and allies took control of the country, they immediately broke their promises.

Instead, they spent time fighting for their own vested interests, easily forgetting why there were there in the first place. During the first six months, the government of Viktor Yushchenko could have proceeded quickly, if he had wished, with pledges to eradicate corruption and initiate economic and social reforms including tax and judicial reforms.

Most importantly, he failed to deal with the criminal clans and put them behind bars.

Instead, he chose to quarrel with his co-leader Yulia Tymoshenko. He dismissed her from the post of prime minister and later on gave rewards to his arch rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

So, for the past two and half years, Yushchenko has been too involved in maintaining his power, dealing with fractional and regional politics.

Now, it is too late, the momentum is past. "It would be tough for the government to regain such strong support," says Yevhen Bystrytsky, executive director of the International Renaissance Foundation.

Interviews with several leading journalists here in the Ukraine echo the sentiment.That is exactly what has been happening in Thailand.

Both the government and Council for National Security have been moving at a snail's pace, so much so that they have been labelled "old ginger" or "losers".

Apparently, the CNS knows only how to oust a dictator; it has failed to exercise power in meaningful ways. The coup leaders have been called incompetent and naive. Now as their one-year timeframe is coming to an end, they are rushing.

Rumours that the CNS and the government had made deals with Thaksin Shinawatra are not helping.

In the beginning, when Yushchenko was elected as president following the heavily-rigged polls, Ukrainians knew their country would never be the same again and they wanted results.

But somehow the new president has turned out to be a different person. Julia Mostova, deputy chief editor of Mirror of the Week said: "He is like other politicians who effectively are opportunists."

That helps explain why Yushchenko has done all imaginable political somersaults to either stay in power or undermine his own allies. An election has been scheduled for September.

It is hard to predict who will win and what kind of impact it will have on the Ukraine. One thing is clear though: politicians from all sides will try to manipulate the polls as much as possible.

Leading journalists lament that Yushchenko has completely ruined any chances of consideration for early EU and Nato memberships because of his own self-interest.

Foreign visitors can easily feel the residue of the Soviet-era mindset and attitude in Kiev these days. They also wish, unrealistically, that the Ukraine will become a democratic nation soon.

In the past two and half years under Yushchenko, the political situation in the Ukraine has become worse. It has become enmeshed with personal jealousies and rivalries and vested interests.

It is as if the same plot was being hatched in Thailand. After the coup, the CNS leaders were embattled. The latest episode at the Telephone Organisation of Thailand is a case in point.

Another similar feature of the Orange and Silk revolutions is the role of media. In both cases, the media played a crucial role in disseminating information and empowering the public.

During the third day of the Orange Revolution, a sign-language interpreter on TV told TV audiences that the news she was interpreting was lies and propaganda.

Her honest and timely comments won Ukrainian hearts and encouraged people to show up at Maidan Square to protest, which forced the government of Leonid Kuchma to reschedule a new election.

At that time, journalists both online and offline kept the public informed, including voting monitoring, which caught the government cheating red handed.

However, after a few months the government tried to assert control of the media. Yushchenko became less tolerant of his critics. The same was true in Thailand.

Some of the CNS leaders in the early months were angry when media outlets reported on Thaksin's movements abroad. Apart from the coup itself, Thaksin's fate was sealed long before by huge and prolonged demonstrations on the streets.

In the past two weeks, pro-Thaksin groups have taken to the streets with red banners, trying to repeat the success of the People's Alliance for Democracy and to pressure the CNS into resigning.

In Kiev, it was the same. The demonstrators loyal to Yanukovych have also staged rallies, with blue flags, trying to undermine the Yushchenko camp. Now, it is a battle between blue and orange.

In Thailand, it is the yellow and red.

In the finality, both revolutions suffer from the same lack of solidarity among allies.

Things change because vested interests change. Once they are in power, they focus on their own schemes to ensure their survival and in many cases to ensure that their immediate circle will benefit from their rise to power.

The moral lessons from these two revolutions are simple. First, the public has high expectations after a political triumph, so those who are in power must deliver on their promises fast and without any excuses.

Second, allies have to stay together a long time, otherwise solidarity fizzles out quickly and other political elements can interfere and cause realignments.

Also, do not stir up the crowd because if people feel they are being used, they can turn against their mentor.

Source: The Nation