'Boss', 'Pai' and the casino of (in)justice
Place your bets on what's going to happen first: Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya being brought to court, or Jatupat "Pai Dao Din" Boonpattararaksa being granted bail.
In the casino of (in)justice, the odds stack up against one and in favour of the other. You know which is which.
Mr Vorayuth in 2013 allegedly hit and killed a policeman while speeding down Sukhumvit in his Ferrari. He has never since set foot near a police station, let alone jail. Mr Jatupat, as we all know, was detained since last December for sharing an article on Facebook. He was repeatedly denied bail.
One family name is featured regularly in Forbes. The other is featured regularly in a prison's visitor registration. You know which is which.
One's still using Facebook (or at least until recently) to advertise his high life, from dining in France to snowboarding in Japan and beyond. The other hasn't touched a computer in months (except when he took his exam in jail). No need for clues, you know which is which.
Mr Vorayuth is 31, a grandson of an energy drink mogul. Mr Jatupat is 25, a son of two lawyers.
The two young men have nothing to do with each other, I'm aware of that, and I'm aware that I'm mounting a binary juxtaposition here. But what else could I do when their cases, in their own sick ways, exemplify the state of Thailand in 2017, the Thailand whose conscience is going through a painful, unending test?
What else could I do when I opened this newspaper yesterday and Mr Vorayuth and Mr Jatupat made headlines?
"Police deny stalling on 'Boss' case", referring to that mysterious delay in the translation of the extradition requests (Chulalongkorn Center of Translation and Interpretation, call 02-218-4634). Then, "Military pulls bail for Pai Dao Din", referring to the military court's decision to revoke Mr Jatupat bail -- it's a little confusing, "revoked bail" but the man has been in prison for months? This is because the case in consideration this week was his participation at the anti-coup protest in 2015, and not the article-sharing "crime", which didn't grant him bail in the first place.
Anyway, what's the difference? Barefoot, Mr Jatupat was brought back to Khon Kaen jail.
The two men of Thailand in 2017: One is somewhere in the higher latitudes, suntanning in the European summer; the other is exactly where he has been since December, behind bars and under a secured roof soaked by the recent downpours of Isan. One can't be found by the entire police force; the other can be located in your cell phone's GPS by typing "Khon Kaen Special Correctional Institution".
One is a poster boy of privilege. The other a symbol of resistance. One shows us that entitlement, through wealth or connections or both, can afford someone such a blithe disregard for the law; the other shows us how life is so fragile and yet so moving, so dignified. The two men are actually connected: they're the two faces of Thailand today.
In fact, we're not surprised in the least about the two news items. No one would expect the police to say anything remotely enlightening besides insisting that the delay wasn't intentional, and that since the translation was now complete, they seriously wanted to bring the man to stand trial -- after nearly four years. The translation mishap sounded like a Kafkaesque joke at first, unless you realise that Kafka is never dead in the labyrinth of Siamese bureaucracy.
Likewise, observers never expected Mr Jatupat to walk free. For seven months his nine bail requests have all been denied. So here, again, his fate is connected to that of Mr Vorayuth's by way of Kafka, particularly in a fable Before the Law, which has never sounded timelier: In this two-page story, a powerless man from a province requested the powerful gatekeeper to gain entry into "the law", a tempting domain that's supposed to be accessible to everyone. But the man's requests kept being rejected by the gatekeeper, time after time, year after year, until his eyesight grew weak and his body old. The man, who persisted and didn't go away despite nearing the end of his life, asked the gatekeeper in despair: "Everyone strives after the law, so how is it that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?"
"The gatekeeper," the story goes, "sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, 'Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I'm going now to close it."
For Mr Jatupat and Mr Vorayuth -- and for all of us -- this is the story of our times.
Kong Rithdee is Life Editor, Bangkok Post.
Bangkok Post columnist
Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.