Yingluck gets earful as the play goes on
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Yingluck gets earful as the play goes on

The suspense, then the anticlimax. The adrenaline, then the warrant.

Has the defendant become the fugitive?


But whether she stays or flees, whether Yingluck Shinawatra emerges and prolongs the suspense until the next Supreme Court rendezvous, on Sept 27, or she cuts a hole in the barbed wire and goes into exile like her brother -- either way, Thailand won't come out of its lightless tunnel. Either way, the mechanism is being installed to ensure that Thai politics as we knew it -- the politics that allowed the people a degree of participation in our own future, engendered by the 1997 Constitution -- will no longer function. Either way, the ventriloquists in the "reform" committees as well as the coming-soon appointed senators and independent agencies empowered by the 2016 Charter will work to ensure that the power stays where it belongs: not in the hands of the people or "politicians" but somewhere murky or invisible. Pundits talk about the "deep state". No, it's a deeper state, or the deepest, so deep you can't see the bottom of it.

The high drama yesterday morning was quickly deflated when Ms Yingluck did not show up to the Supreme Court to hear the verdict on a criminal charge related to her rice-pledging scheme. The narrative has since been replaced by speculation and "insider's intel" of her whereabouts. Singapore? Dubai? Cambodia? Dao Khanong? Annapurna? Jupiter? Or is she still in her house, nursing the vertigo from Meniere's disease, as she cited as the cause of absence? Her lawyer couldn't even confirm where she was.

What a turn. To her supporters, the valiant heroine who had vowed to stand up against the horde of gun-toting bullies has taken sick leave -- understandable, yes, and yet they thought the sick-leave trick was preferred by the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy! To her enemies, it's high time to gloat: for them, Ms Yingluck turns out to be a coward, because absence means guilt, because they'll hate her more no matter whether she's a convict, a deserter, or an innocent.

Then, to those in the middle (roughly those who doubt the Shinawatras and their corporate-style politics but also disapprove of the military), who suspect some kind of deal has been struck or being negotiated, that the whole shebang about the case was nothing but theatre, performed by the old power and the new elite and playing us for fools, just like when Thaksin Shinawatra was allowed to leave the country years ago. Look how the script was near-perfect: no one got wind of her nonappearance until the very last minute. Ms Yingluck pulled a great stand-you-up trick when hundreds of reporters and thousands of supporters had already thronged the street outside the court and all TV channels and Facebook pages had gone live.

That Ms Yingluck's charge was decidedly political has been much discussed. That it's an unfair and detrimental move that will demoralise future policy-makers is beyond dispute. That no one should be in jail for running a flawed policy is a common understanding. That the court took hours to issue an arrest warrant for her when another court took years to issue one for a more harmful crime (say, a hit-and-run by a Ferrari driver) has been duly noted. Still, Ms Yingluck, as her name seems to suggest, is lucky enough to have the connection and wherewithal to avoid the claws of fate, while other fighters have ended up in jail or lived in fear, while journalists are still threatened and politicians warned, while academics are summoned and activists harassed, while protesters against a Krabi power plant are ignored and evicted villagers elsewhere left helpless. At least some of these people would have loved to leave too, only if they could. (Ex-commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, however, didn't run and was yesterday sentenced to 42 years in jail).

But they can't, and the struggles will continue. What happens around Ms Yingluck, whether she stays or flees, is high-profile, outrageous and indicative of the post-coup purge, the eradication of a powerful movement that reconfigured Thailand in the early 2000s. And yet it is just one of the many struggles, ideological and political, legal and cultural, at a time when the coup-makers are determined to entrench the power of the establishment, namely the military, the technocrats, the bureaucracy, the old power clique, and the well-connected business circles. Even a general election won't be able to alter that.

Either Ms Yingluck is here or elsewhere, it isn't that important. The people will not have much choice left but to play along, to subject willingly to the role in the theatre scripted by someone high up. Fleeing, if you're as lucky, doesn't sound that bad after all.

Kong Rithdee is Life Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kong Rithdee

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.

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