The Only Way Is Down
Here’s my take on the political situation in Thailand. Just a personal view, but it’s from someone who has lived in the country for over 20 years so I think I know something of the background. That’s the plus side. The minus side is that by not speaking or understanding the language I might have missed some details that are behind this never-ending saga.
Thailand is light years away from the tourism-promoted Land of Smiles image. Just about anyone who has spent more than a few weeks in the country knows that. There is a very deep divide, not only politically but socially, between north and south. My wife, from the north-east, attended a Bangkok university which had a number of students from the south, and she despised them without even knowing any of them personally.
Not much different from recent times in the USA when many whites hated blacks, or in my native UK when the English hated Pakistani or Indian immigrants without actually knowing any. There were plenty of those immigrants in the part of London I came from, and while managing a record store I became friends with an Indian customer. In those days I was able to call him Turbie or Turban Top to his face, but I’d not get away with that now. He was just a normal guy. We went on holiday to Finland and, as soon as our ship sailed, off came his turban and his hair tumbled to his waist. That was his expression of freedom.
I also had an Indian woman as my boss, who had an arranged marriage. I asked her how she could marry someone she didn’t know, and she said they just grew together. These days, when in so many western relationships people marry and then grow apart, I wonder who has got it right – them or us. I married my own wife only two weeks after meeting her and so not really knowing her, and that was 23 years ago. I find it interesting, in these days when I believe figures show that over 50 percent of western marriages fail, that both I and all of my UK friends are in marriages that have lasted over 20 years. It seems that these days people don’t have the patience to listen and understand the other’s point of view, and to compromise.
You might think that I have digressed. But have I, because not listening to another point of view is why Thailand is on a downward spiral, and increasingly so. Neither side in the political divide has even the slightest interest in the other’s point of view. Discussion is totally out of the question. And we know why. It is because such adult behaviour is frowned upon within the education system. Thais have never been given the freedom to debate and learn a different point of view.
Thais are discouraged from asking questions, querying the status quo, stepping outside the box. Every school child is rigidly controlled from the start, right down to such basics as how they must cut their hair and the style of clothes they must wear, and that continues right through the school system in which Thailand’s future generation can only listen and repeat, listen and repeat. In the UK I was part of a group who visited other London schools where we took part in debates. I cannot imagine such a thing happening in Thailand. And even if it did happen it would probably only be to discuss which Korean pop singer was better than another.
So, when we get the current split in society, no-one knows how to properly debate the differences or how to seek a compromise, a middle road. In Thailand everything is always black or white, and any shades in-between do not exist. A reflection of that is the way that Thais put up with all kinds of nonsense and then suddenly explode when it all becomes too much. It’s like the Popeye cartoon when he says, “That’s all I can takes, I can’t takes no more,” and out comes the can of spinach. Anger explodes, as it does on the streets during the political gatherings. Somehow people forget that they are all Thais and should be uniting for the sake of the country instead of destroying it.
Incredibly, there are TV stations that are allowed to broadcast 24 hours a day, one run by the Red Shirts and one by the Yellow Shirts, each filled with ranting and hate speeches at a level that would have made Hitler proud. To witness that destroys any hope or expectation that Thailand will find a way to bring the two sides together. It is truly a mission impossible.
Why there are such differences is why the only way for Thailand is down, unless or until there is a real revolution – a civil war perhaps – that forces change at great cost to one side or the other and certainly to the country. The unrest we have seen so far is nothing compared to what may happen in the future, as we have two immovable forces. As in revolutions of old, it is between the rich and poor, the establishment and the peasants. It happened in England, it happened in France, it has happened in several other countries in Europe. More recently it has happened in the Middle East when people have had enough of being the subject of (near) dictatorships. Either for class, financial or political reasons, people eventually grow tired of being treated as second-class citizens and they rise up. Riots in the USA and UK, even Australia, largely involving black youths who feel they have had a raw deal, is another example of what happens in an unjust society.
And that is what Thailand is. Power and money is in the hands of a few elites and they will do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. The problem for them is that they are vastly outnumbered by an increasingly vocal and volatile majority, and that majority is no longer prepared to be dismissed as irrelevant and unimportant.
The so-called justification for trying to unseat the current government is that it is riddled with corruption, but that has applied to every Thai government for as far back as anyone can remember. And, with hypocrisy, one guilty in the past is now the leading campaigner to end such corruption. He is demanding the legally elected government surrender to an (elite) unelected committee, and is doing all he can to end the democratic right of every citizen to elect a government of their choice. For good or bad that is what the people have done, and by sheer weight of the so-called poor outnumbering the elite, the rich and powerful know they cannot in the foreseeable future form a government. Hence, they don’t want elections to be held. What makes the current situation even more ridiculous is that the party supporting the elite refuse to stand in the election anyway.
As is so very often the case with almost any problem in Thailand, it could be solved. Surely there is a law in Thailand against intimidation, yet protesters are able to prevent people registering as candidates, or voting, with total immunity as the police look on and do nothing. If the police allowed these people to register and vote there would be a clear-cut decision on who has the right to govern. Arrest warrants have also long been issued against the protest leaders, but there has been just one token arrest. It’s not as if the leaders are in hiding. They are on the street marching, or on a stage spewing hate and inciting conflict. So the lunatics are in charge of the asylum.
Now, when a fresh election is eventually held to replace the last election, the result of which was declared void by the court, we’ll enter Groundhog Day. The protesters will block people registering, and block voters in places where they are able to vote, and the court will declare that election invalid as well. And so it is set to go on indefinitely. In effect, Thailand has become an ungovernable country ruled only by intimidation and punctuated with street battles as people are killed and maimed by the endless supply of grenades that appear to be so readily available in this quiet and peaceful Land of Smiles.