We had riots here in Bangkok this week. They were held by a "royalist" opposition party, Pitak Siam, dedicated to the overthrow of the current democratically elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra; her party, PheuThai; and all things Shinawatra. Pitak Siam announced several weeks ago that they were going to bring down the Evil (Democratically Elected) Regime by massing a million protesters and, essentially, striking a decisive blow for the freedom of the very rich traditional ruling elite.
Well . . .
Even the most flattering estimates of the size of the crowd put it at 20,000, or about two percent of the target. Most of them had it at roughly 12,000, which means that the demonstrators were literally outnumbered by the cops and soldiers on hand.
So the demonstrators listened to speeches from the stage that had been set up and generally stood around drinking bottled water. The police, in a common-sense move, had limited access to what was supposed to have been the riot's authorized site by putting concrete blockades across all but two of the major streets that provided access. This outraged the protesters. The cops and army had also set up checkpoints at many of the main entry points into Bangkok proper. This outraged the protesters.
Forget that Thailand is currently suffering almost daily attacks by Muslim extremists in the South and that there have been a couple in Bangkok as well. Forget what an enticing target a closely-packed crowd of one million people (or even a sparse little cocktail party of 12,000) would have been. Forget the howls from Pitak Siam if a terrorist (or several) had been allowed to penetrate the crowd and set off explosive devices. I mean, imagine the outrage.
But forget all that. That's future outrage. What mattered to the Pitak Siam leaders was current outrage.
So there's the crowd, milling around and probably telling each other jokes, and there are the cops, resolutely declining to put their snipers into action or to get the army to roll tanks over a few protesters as a photo op. So the Pitak Siam leaders order their hapless followers to storm the barricades, and they do, and the cops fire some tear gas and whack a couple of people with nightsticks and everybody runs away. The Pitak Siam leader, in a paroxysm of self-pity (It's not about the country, it's about me.), said, “I have already died.”
We should be so lucky.
But, of course, the TV news channels enlivened the permanent IQ sink they inhabit with extensive footage of the tear gas, and many newspapers, following the 21st-century journalism precept, “If it bleeds, it leads,” did the same.
And, of course, this debacle crowned an amazing couple of weeks for Yingluck, in which she represented Thailand at a Southeast Asian leadership conference, looking, in the lineup of her neighboring heads of state, like a rose in a bowl of artichokes, and then held a joint press conference with President Obama, answering, in English, questions posed in English—something the opposition said she'd never dare to do.
And just to avoid charges of my being infatuated with Yingluck's womanly charms (the opposition press ran cartoons that Thailand's first female prime minister seducing the U.S. President like a bar girl), let's focus for a moment on the often-neglected concept of majority rule. Remember majority rule?
Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was elected Prime Minister twice, the second time by the only absolute majority in the history of Thai politics and was then thrown out of office in a coup by the power elite. They held an election, and Thaksin's deputy was elected. He was thrown out of office, and the elite put one of their own in the prime minister's chair and suspended elections until they absolutely had to hold one, at which time Yingluck was elected by the second absolute majority in the history of Thai politics.
I don't actually believe that Pheu Thai, Yingluck's party, has the people's interest much closer to their hearts than the power elite does—they're certainly doing nothing about the ongoing seizure of rice farms in the poverty-stricken Northeast—but listen up, you boneheads in the power elite. The people elected her. They're probably going to elect her again. Get used to it.
Oh, yeah, she faces censure hearings this week. Maybe they'll fire tear gas at the opposition leaders. That would be nice.