In police theatre, the joke is on us

In police theatre, the joke is on us

Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul is putting his own dignity at stake in the great police drama over the so-called 'great escape' of ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul is putting his own dignity at stake in the great police drama over the so-called 'great escape' of ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Those who have lived in Thailand long enough have probably heard of a form of folk theatre known in Thai as likay.

The likay stage show features actors in bejewelled outfits and spectacular headgear. Each possesses rhyme-chanting skills which they alternate with regular dialogue.

As it is a stage play, likay actors must also use gestures to communicate with the audience. There are standard gestures used by all troupes. For example, when a role requires a character to sleep they sit on a bench, close their eyes, half-recline on a triangular pillow and place their face on the palm of their hands, supported by their elbow. With this gesture, the audience has been programmed to believe the character is falling sleep while something else takes place.

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Another well-known gesture is allowing an actor to think aloud. They walk to the end of the stage while talking to themselves and placing a hand on the side of their mouth. When an actor makes this gesture, we know they are making secret plans that others cannot hear or know about.

Since the performance is based on folklore, most of the story lines are based in the realm of fantasy -- a mother who gives birth to a shell, for example. This makes it pretty fun to watch.

However, this type of performance is becoming rare. A dying art, you may say.

Now when I think of former premier Yingluck Shinawatra's recent escape drama, and how the police have acted in the wake of her disappearance, it reminds me of a likay performance, with the authorities acting in a similarly make-believe way.

Ms Yingluck disappeared on Aug 25 ahead of a final ruling by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on a criminal negligence charge in relation to her administration's rice-pledging scheme. The court is set to deliver its verdict today -- in absentia is the fugitive former premier again proves a no-show.

After a long delay, a probe launched after her vanishing act identified three policemen as having abetted her escape from Bangkok. A Toyota Camry bearing a fake registration plate was said to have been involved.

But the more entertaining, likay-styled scene came from Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, the deputy national police chief, who this week raised eyebrows by saying the three officers "did not break the law" in helping her flee.

This is because their actions occurred before her arrest warrant was issued on Aug 25, he reasoned. The only charge that the three officers are to face is using a counterfeit car licence.

Pol Gen Srivara claimed this would not be the case if the officers facilitated her escape after the warrant had been issued.

For most people, that explanation is pretty hard to swallow. In Thai we would tend to say it's "like likay speak".

Then there is the slow pace of progress being made in the case. As of yesterday, over a month after Ms Yingluck fled, the deputy police chief said authorities could not verify whether she had left the country.

In addition, there was no information from Interpol about her whereabouts, he said.

The alleged role of the police in her "great escape" comes as no surprise. Many also suspect there must have been other officers involved.

Ms Yingluck's brother, Thaksin -- another fugitive former premier on the run from justice -- is himself an ex-police officer. He must have strong connections given his vast wealth and resume.

Not to mention the widely held theory that Ms Yingluck got the green light to disappear from the authorities. This avoid the risk that handing a prison sentence would galvanise her supporters and sow more social discord in what is already a very heavily politicised case.

Ultimately, whichever way the court ruled would have put the regime in a difficult position.

If this theory holds water, can we really blame the three officers?

As the case unfolds, I grow more concerned about the Thai police. Pol Gen Srivara is putting his dignity at stake.

People cannot help but wonder if it is this kind of attitude that allowed other high-profile figures like Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya and the former abbot of Dhammakaya temple to disappear and slip away from the supposedly long arm of the law.

The RTP's motto is: There is nothing under the sky that Thai police cannot do.

Precisely.

As the comments by Pol Gen Srivara show, no matter how this case resolves itself, the Thai police are being reduced to a laughing stock.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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