It Ain’t Over ‘til the Fat Lady Sings
The Thai economy and tourism in general.
So. Somchai is stepping down. The “protesters” are one step behind them. A quick sweep of Suvarnabhumi, perhaps a fresh coat of paint here and there and voila…everything is magically transformed back to normal. Everyone is smiling in the streets. Tourists flock back to the Land of Smiles in unprecedented numbers. The Thai economy booms as investors rush to sink billions in hard cash into a prosperous democracy that is the envy of the world. Right? Well my friends, if you believe in this rosy scenario, I do wish you would share a little of what you are smoking with me, ‘cause I’m about ready for an “out of body experience”!
If you can believe it, last night I saw a Thai Airways advertisement on TV that seemed to whisper softly that everything is all right now. On screen, pretty girls in colorful silk dresses with siren sweet smiles were waiing to me all with a serene twinkle in their eyes. “Thai…smooth as silk” Yeah right! The nightmare of the past week was just that, a dream. Certainly nothing to lose a night’s sleep over. The sad reality is that we have woken from one nightmare, only to emerge into another. I fear that many here in The Land of Smiles will not be sleeping well for a long, long time.
Well you’ve all seen pictures of “victorious” PAD members celebrating as though their actions of the past week were suddenly vindicated. It worked! It actually worked! They held hundreds of thousands of foreigners hostage, and in the end their demands were met! The Thaksin “puppet” was disposed! Now they were in real control of the country. Now they could get down to the serious business of dismantling democracy. Well I really do hate to rain on their parade, but I think they are a wee bit premature in their celebratory dance. In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.” And Dame Liberty hasn’t even begun to warm up her “pipes”! Somchai may be out the door, but his successor, whoever he is will be yet another Thaksin surrogate. Call them puppets if you will, but these guys have more lives than an army of zombies, or perhaps a hydra would be a more apt description. You can lop off individual heads all day and all night, but more keep being regenerated. The so-called Constitutional Court dissolved Thai Rak Thai. What happened? The PPP was born, or should I say simply reformulated from existing elements. The banning of the PPP will have a similar result. In fact the new incarnation has already sprung phoenix-like from the PPP’s ashes. This hydra will have six heads, after being cobbled together from six remaining coalition factions. As The Who aptly put in Won’t Get fooled Again, “Meet the old boss, same as the old boss”.
In another few months Thailand will be right back where we are today, with Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts at each other’s throats. Oh, actually I stand corrected. I do believe these folks will be “duking it out” in Bangkok even while you are reading this. Some things will never change. If anything the antagonism caused in this last debacle has reached new heights. I fully expect that tit for tat acts of violence to escalate.
One thing that was truly astonishing to me is that nowhere in the international coverage of the last week was anything about the political agenda of PAD. Everything was framed in terms of a spontaneous uprising against a corrupt Thaksin and his minions, the devil incarnate and his satanic spawn if you will. To hear them tell their tale, apparently corruption never existed in Thailand prior to the “rigged election” of the Square Faced One. I am reminded of the scene in Casablanca where Claude Raines closes down Rick’s Café after being “shocked” to learn that gambling has being going on there…but not shocked enough as one of his flunkies hands him his night’s winnings. If real investigative journalism existed in Thailand, not one of PAD’s leaders would emerge but anything but corrupt! But the international media likes their stories with all the players wearing either White or Black hats…in this case Yellow or Red Shirts. In this psychodrama the Yellow Shirts were portrayed as perhaps a bit too overzealous in taking over two airports and driving the country over a cliff, but fundamentally their cause was “just”. The Red Shirts took on the inevitable role as anti-democratic Thaksin cronies, desperately trying to hold on to power. Welcome to Wonderland folks where reality is turned on its head so many times that I’m dizzy just keeping track of the lies being portrayed as “Truth”. The least amount of effort on the part of CNN or the BBC would have revealed a much darker reality, where the shadowy powers behind much of this mess work their Machiavellian machinations. Who are the members of this “cabal”? It is of course the 100 million baht question that cannot be addressed. To quote Stick, “Of course there is more to it but it would be imprudent to go there…” Imprudent indeed! In Thailand there are subjects that simply are not permitted to be discussed. I’ll leave the rest to your fertile imaginations.
Another question that begs to be answered is the timing of the Court’s decision to disband the PPP. Of course there was no doubt that they would do it, since these were the same “judicial scholars” that disbanded TRT. The fact that the vast majority of the Thai people have continued to support Thaksin and his policies are utterly irrelevant. The judges were given their marching orders and they willingly complied, but why, given the violence that occurred when PAD took over Government House, didn’t they hand down their ruling months ago? The situation if not actually resolved, could have been toned down. Why did they wait, while the insanity spiraled to new heights? Why after the PAD first stormed Suvarnabhumi didn’t they just get on with what they were going to do anyway and spare the country a world of pain? Now these are questions worth asking, but don’t hold your breathe waiting for answers!!! This is Thailand, so don’t expect logic to rule the day.
So what can we expect in the coming months? I’ll be damned if I can make an accurate prediction for 2009, but it doesn’t take an Einstein to see some of what is hurtling down the highway. Once a new PM is chosen, PAD will immediately refuse to recognize his legitimacy. Demands will be made once again for Mr. X’s removal…or else! Then the sorry cycle of events that has plagued Thailand since Thaksin was ousted will start all over again. But this time I think the stakes will be raised even higher. Taking over the airports is soooo “yesterday”. What can PAD do to top that little caper? Who knows? I’m sure though their fertile little minds will come up with something outrageous. It’s ironic, but most of the rabble that currently serves as PAD’s “shock troops” is seriously deluding themselves if they believe that “come the revolution” they will be part of the ruling elite. These sorry fools haven’t quite grasped the idea that it is their masters who will rule. They exist only as expendable pawns in this game. They are in fact part of the “ignorant masses” who would be disenfranchised if PAD ever did come to power. The only use the moneyed elite have for a rabble is to serve as cannon fodder. Oh a few goodies would be tossed their way…the equivalent I guess of allowing Mongol hoards to pillage a bit, but that would be the extent of their reward in a New Order. Maybe they could all be given country club memberships so that they could put all those golf clubs to good use…oh I forgot, the elite doesn’t really want to rub shoulders with their social inferiors. The place for these “golfers” would be to tend the greens or perhaps serve up a cold drink.
What happens when the quarter of a million stranded tourists finally make it the hell out of The Land of Smiles? Somehow I don’t think they will be in any hurry to enjoy another round of Thai “hospitality”. In point of fact they will be telling horror stories to friends, family, and their local media of their “vacation from hell”. I think it’s a fair guess that many family oriented tourists will be crossing off Thailand on their list of “must see” travel destinations. The current crisis may be winding down, but who knows when the next one will start up? Would you want to bet on it when planning a vacation? Are you feeling lucky? Of course guys coming here to “play with the girls” may be a bit more cavalier in taking risks, but even they have alternate choices. I’m sure the pretty ladies in Cambodia or the Philippines would be more than happy to “take care of them”.
What about the international business community? If you were looking for a place to invest some big bucks, would you want to bet that your entire operation could be paralyzed in the blink of an eye? There are other places in Southeast Asia that might present more stability.
Finally what about the average Somsak and Somporn on the street? What does the future hold for them? The economic effects of this past week have only just begun. Tourism may only represent a relatively small part of Thailand’s GNP, but that’s still a significant amount of money that won’t be percolating through towns all over the country. Things were already bad enough for many. Now they will get even worse, and may in fact never recover. Beyond the economic losses, the loss of face is incalculable. Many people I spoke with this week were utterly mortified with how Thailand is now seen by the rest of the world. It has to be galling to be lumped in with countries like Sudan or Afghanistan. Proud to be Thai? Except for a bunch of Yellow shirted lunatics, I don’t think so.
PAD may have won this battle, but the war will just continue. It's like things are going around in circles and as you allude to, just what will they do next? If they take things up a notch further, well, they get decidedly scary.