This was Victory Monument on my way to work today morning on 16 January, 2014.
………… and on my way back the same day this evening.
Just after I took this shot the national anthem struck up loudly and all were still and ramrod straight. It ended with the traditional celebratory cheer Chai Chai Chaiyo. The closest equivalent in English being Hip Hip Hooray. It was so heartfelt and very moving.
The Ministry of Public Health, to whom my affiliated university is closely aligned, has backed the demonstrators against the elected government. Interesting stance for a civil service institution. They will close for 4 days. I, and a few others, have decided that we will continue working during the “shutdown”. We feel a little like extras on the remake of the 1959 comedy “I’m All Right Jack” (no I didn’t see it when it was first released). I have never had it so easy getting to the office. Being able to get a seat on the Skytrain on each day of my commute – unheard of.
Whilst I can certainly understand and agree with their concerns I cannot agree with the demonstrators’ strategy. Of course I would support their right to demonstrate (how very big of me)! The organizing body and force is the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). Be wary of institutions, or countries, with Democratic in their name. They are often the reverse. Think of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea or the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. The PDRC appears to wish to avoid free and fully franchised elections, that would end in troublesome and inconvenient result, but rather have a Royal appointed Prime Minister selected by a committee.
The PDRC are fully cognizant that the results of the declared snap election would be that the North and North Eastern (Isaan) peoples of Thailand would most probably return the current ruling party. There has been a real enlightenment process in Thailand over the past decade. A previously largely disenfranchised and patronized majority have discovered that a vote can be a powerful tool. They fully expect their vote to be respected.
I do not like the ruling party’s policies. They are financially ruinous. If I had the vote (and as a foreigner I am not allowed to vote) I would most certainly endorse the main opposition party. However being brought up in a western democracy I would respect the right of the elected party to govern.
Now let’s leave my portentousness aside for a moment. The demonstrations have in the main been extremely good natured and utterly unthreatening as far as I have been concerned. There is a festival atmosphere, the air is free of traffic pollution and it is wonderfully cool weather at present.
We are in Thailand so many are maximizeing commercial opportunities. Stalls set up and wares spread out on previously gridlocked roads. I expect many of the vendors are natural Phua Thai (ruling party) supporters. Entertainment, (comedy, singing and dancing) has been laid on at the main demonstration sites.
Opposite a vendor sells all the accessories no self respecting PDRC supporter would be seen without. A demonstrator would typically wear a cowboy hat with a black tee-shirt emblazoned “Bangkok Shutdown” and Thai flag wristbands. Necks sport a Thai flag colored lanyard with obligatory whistle – the demonstration symbol – they drown out what they don’t wish to hear). All wave Thai flags. Well who could possibly object to that? Where does that leave the supporters of the current party (to confuse matters they are currently changing their colour from red to white) and/or the Isaan peoples? Are they un-Thai? There seems to be a terrible and ever growing dichotomy in the country.
The hijacking of national flags can be a sinister development in politics. Think the British National Party in the UK who do not hesitate to wave the Union flag in our faces. I certainly can detect the undercurrents of xenophobia.
The Thais are an extremely tolerant (and in this spirit please don’t kick me out for this post) and forgiving peoples and that I love them for (Churchill said it was OK to end sentences with a preposition). However these amiable traits can perhaps be a weakness at times. I sincerely hope they are able to engineer real reform. Not of the democratic institutions but reform to eliminate endemic corruption and to implement a truly independent and powerful judiciary whereby the rule of law is respected and enforced.
No mistake Thailand is writing an important chapter in its history at the moment. We all hope that it ends peacefully.
Perhaps it is appropriate to end with Churchill: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for everything else that has been tried.“