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WHEN COMEDY MET TRAGEDY


Standing on the outside looking in often affords the observer a more perceptive view of a situation than if he were caught up in its midst. Such is the case with Thai politics. As a disenfranchised alien with a sense of detached irony, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry as I look on at what to me is clearly ludicrous in my adopted and beloved homeland. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Thailand has a strong cultural identity and nowhere is this more evident than in its unique brand of politics. Where else could a military junta that overthrew an elected government be seen as the best hope for democracy? When populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in the 2006 coup d’état, that was exactly how many here perceived the situation. Unfortunately, it was a hope that has since withered and died of neglect.

Thaksin won two elections, not by pampering to middle-class Bangkokians as is the established modus operandi of most political candidates, but rather by awakening from their political slumber the long ignored poor and largely uneducated, rural north and north-eastern majority. Once in office, however, he is alleged to have used every means possible to stay there and increase both his power and personal wealth, all at the expense of democracy and the Thai people he claimed to love. Widely accused of corruption and vote-buying on a level considered excessive even by Thai standards, he simply had to go.

Now, here we are two years later with an overwhelming sense of déjà-vu. After the coup, the Bangkok-centric opposition parties failed to learn from Thaksin’s legacy that politics are for the whole country. They quickly reverted to largely ignoring their up-country cousins thus allowing Thaksin’s cronies to fill the power vacuum and democratically regain power by winning the first post-coup election on the back of their unchallenged rural support.

Middle-class Bangkokians have found this hard to swallow and are once more on the streets demanding change in their perverse interpretation of democracy. While they had my support the first time round, this time is very different. The saying: “Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me,” seems highly relevant here.  

I am by no means a fan of the Samak government, but I have lost all sympathy with the protesters who want to see the big man ousted and the government fall again, but still offer no better alternative. There’s more to Thailand than just Bangkok and until they accept this fact and accept the results of the elections, we are doomed to see this destructive circle of events continue.

The Samak government may not have had the best policies or been the best option for the country, but they won the election. That’s tough, but that’s democracy. The people have spoken. The protesters castigate their poor rural cousins for supporting corrupt politicians, but fail to address issues that matter to them. If there is ever to be reconciliation, Bangkokians must accept that rural Thais have the right to vote how they want and are not just their bumpkin maids, taxi drivers, cleaners and prostitutes.

The oafish Samak has come out with some classic quotes during these troubled times. First he said that if the protesters won, he would just swap places with them and protest against whoever replaced him. It was said tongue in cheek, but until both sides learn to accept the results of the election, democracy will continue to fail. More recently, after imposing a state of emergency, the PM was quoted as saying that he was thinking of reversing his decision because no-one was taking any notice of it. This is Thailand, Samak. Nobody cares about laws or rules here.

Politics is indeed a messy business in Thailand. Consider the US constitution, which has remained unchanged since it was written over 200 years ago and, apart from the ridiculous right to arm bears, has served its purpose well. Now compare this with the Thai constitution, which is 60 years old and is changed more often than a Frenchman’s underwear. It gets rewritten by each government to serve their own members’ interests.

In Thailand, politics and elections are more about image and marketing than offering forward-thinking and workable manifestos. We have political parties with names like Thais love Thais and For the Motherland, and now as the race to find the next governor of Bangkok gets underway we have ample more evidence in the capital. Long gone are the days when a simple portrait and a number were used to introduce the hopefuls. The streets of Bangkok are currently festooned with pictures of the candidates striking comic poses as they aim to portray a certain image.

We have pictures of the incumbent pointing in a decisive manner and surrounded by assistants as he seeks to manifest an image of leadership and achievement. Then there is another candidate who clearly wants to be seen as a hard-working, no-nonsense option, and is, therefore, pictured frowning and rolling up his shirt sleeves like a vet with a pregnant and stubborn cow.

However, the funniest and most bemusing has to be the grown mad with the 16 year old boy’s moustache, Chuwit, a man who made his fortune from seedy massage parlours and now champions social morality. Hypocrisy is a trait most politicians quickly perfect. In his campaign pictures, he is seen leaning out of a car window looking very angry with a pair of binoculars in his hand. Could he be after the disgruntled urban ornithologists’ vote? It’s hard to say.

One thing that is for sure is that political freedom remains in its infancy in Thailand. A Thai friend recently asked me what I thought of democracy in Thailand. “It would make a nice change,” I replied.

Paul Snowdon – September 7, 2008

Related article – When Comedy Met Tragedy (Part 2: Send in the Clowns)

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Have your say...

Raju
30 Jul 2014, 13:18
Yes Martyn. Snaggers, snags, surprise pcraels (because you never know what's in a sausage) or plain old sausage. I must admit the oily fried egg slapped onto a piece of skinny dried up supposedly toast does not appeal to me either. I don't mind the occasional chipolata sausage and have not had and old favourite the Wilstshire sausage as I think it is called, for some time. One of the best American breakfasts I have ever had was when I was touring across the States and stopped in at a pancake place in South Carolina for breakfast. I didn't want pancakes but I was so hungry I needed something to eat. To my surprise and pleasure I ended up with bacon, eggs, beans, toast and an actual hot coffee!! The cook/chef was unbelievable, he remembered everything the patrons ordered and indeed corrected one of the waitresses when she wrote an order slightly wrong.K
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Antonio
03 Aug 2014, 18:17
Talen thanks for <a href="http://zzfnfzobowz.com">taikng</a> the post in the joking spirit it was intended and yours and Catherine's comments have confirmed to me that American breakfasts are nothing like that. I hoped they wouldn't be.The breakfast in your link looks very tasty to me, I could enjoy that. The link is pretty smart too, I clicked on it and it showed up as part of your comment. That's neat.I still think the English breakfast looks quite well presented, maybe it's the beans that put you off. Brits love baked beans on toast and call them skinheads on a raft'.I'm quite partial to a good bit of haggis.Best wishes from Udon Thani.
Merjen
05 Aug 2014, 15:24
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