Sunday, November 25, 2012

Political Gas

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.

Tim -- Sunday


  1. I'd seen an article this week about the 'riot' in Thailand, and I thought about forwarding the link to you, but then I thought, "Nah, Tim's IN Thailand, he knows what's going on there." And sure enough, your report of the riot rings SO much more clear and true than the usual clap-trap from the major media sources.

    Thanks for the view from the ground!

    If one thing remains true throughout 99% of history, it's that money and power go hand-in-hand, and they will always find a way to stay on top. Even in a country as supposedly democratic as the U.S., it's just a "light sheen" that glosses over the true power structure and keeps it from committing TOO egregious of abuses.

  2. The opposition goes on kicking and screaming, and trying to control-everything. Thanks for the snapshots, Tim.

  3. It's so complicated here because the poor are mercilessly exploited no matter who's in power, although Yingluck's government has tried to do more for them in the brief time she's been in office than her opponents did in all the time after they threw out her brother.

    Thanks, Lil and Everett. It's good to know I'm not writing in a vacuum.

  4. I had a dream about you last night, Tim. And a weird one that seemed to come out of the blue.

    Somehow I was staying around the corner from you in Bangkok and surprised you with an unannounced visit. You lived in small clapboard house with a large front porch. I'm not sure if it was one or two stories, but inside, the first floor was all one large, sunlit room containing not a bit of furniture except for a single straight back wooden chair and simple, beat-up writing desk/table.

    I complimented you on your feng shui and you promptly went out onto the front porch. I followed you out and we spoke for a few minutes before I left.

    Right after that I woke up, turned on my computer, and I read your comment: "It's good to know I'm not writing in a vacuum."

    Obviously you're not, at any level!

  5. Thanks for dreaming about me, Jeff, and the working space sounds idyllic, although I would hope you missed the air conditioner.

    Maybe it was something you ate?

  6. The only thing I would add is, democratically elected in the Boss Tweed tradition of democracy. Don't hammer that word too many times. They want to keep the poor, poor and uneducated, Tim as you probably know. Because if they get an education those politicians might not be re-elected. So where is the incentive? My two satang ...