Tune in, turn on 'The Voice', drop the coups

If there were a time when Thais should say no to the expediency of resorting to the same old pastime of street protests and demand a more constructive country development agenda, it should be now.

Turn off partisan, propagandist, colour-coded TV channels. Watch The Voice if you can't find anything more cerebral. I'm serious. I don't mean all political-minded citizens out there should abandon their pent-up energy and burning wish to see the country move beyond the quagmire of corruption, yawning rich-poor gap, structural inequalities, plus injustice and start competing in singing and dancing. What I mean is, stripped of its commercial or entertainment business value and looked at from a pure content and concept angle, something like The Voice is in a microscopic way an agenda for Thailand. Find what you are good at. Find ways to develop the talent. Compete if you must and stand and be judged on your own merit, not your connections, popularity or power.

Judging from the number of times I saw large Thai flags billowing in the wind as part of red-shirt caravans on Saturday and at the anti-government rally at the Royal Turf Club on Sunday _ a sight that should have conjured up a feeling of pride in the country but instead provoked a sense of boredom in me _ my wish is likely to be unfulfilled.

After more than two years of relative stability, signs are emerging that Thai politics may be heading back to the bipolar, turbulent times marked at one end by the 2006 anti-Thaksin coup and at the other by the 2010 bloody clashes between security forces and anti-Abhisit government protesters.

There is no doubt that feelings of extreme and deep-seated political polarisation extend far beyond the perimeters of these two events. They still permeate both the Thai body politic and personal lives even though it has become much less visible and intense than during its heyday right before and after the coup. And whether one would like to admit it or not, the various forms of dissension remain centred on former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Times have changed; so are the people involved in the ongoing struggle to establish hegemony on the Thai political scene. The face of Thaksin has morphed into that of his youngest sister Yingluck. The yellow-clad People's Alliance for Democracy has dissolved into the multi-coloured and Pitak Siam (Protect Siam) groups. The issue, however, has stayed remarkably the same. The very public wish of Pitak Siam leader Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit that he would love to see a coup and would have staged it by now had he the power hark back to the general tone that the yellow-shirt rallies adopted before the 2006 coup took place.

While supporters and opponents of the Pitak Siam group are still debating the exact number of people who attended the rally on Sunday at the turf club _ whether there were 8,000 or 20,000 and whether they were real supporters or bused-in protesters-for-hire, one indisputable fact is the anti-government event did draw more people and was more popular than earlier predicted.

The question for its organisers and detractors now is whether those who attended the rally on Sunday were there because of curiosity and nostalgia or because they were really ready to do the heavy work of toppling a popularly elected government.

It's no surprise that seeing how the anti-government forces have tried to regroup and re-exert their influence, pro-government factions of the red-shirt group have come out and said they will match them rally-by-rally.

Based on this information, it's likely we will be heading towards a period of excessive political noise. After all, a censure debate is also planned for next month. As different groups compete against the political cacophony to raise their different but similarly lofty-sounding agendas, the question that the good citizens of the country will have to ask themselves is: what good will a return to heavily partisan street politics do for them?

For me, I can't think of any good reason at the moment. The government is legit and it has almost three more years to go. It's not been perfect, that I agree. But chasing it out and inviting the army to stage yet another coup will not make anything better.

It's clear that with the seeds of protest already sown, the Yingluck government has no choice but to show it can do a better job after the latest reshuffle, especially in combating corruption. Likewise its opponents have to look at improving their own tactics too. Watch The Voice. Learn some new tricks. Repeating the anti-monarchy and we-love-a-coup tunes is boring.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Atiya Achakulwisut
Position: Contributing Editor