Pita and the 'Myth of Sisyphus'

Pita and the 'Myth of Sisyphus'

(Photo: Bloomberg)
(Photo: Bloomberg)

'The Gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight."

Whence comes the myth of Thai democracy. Whence comes the ordeal of the Thai progressive movement.

Whence comes, specifically, the unending trials of Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party (MFP), the man with the orange tie on the cusp of the premiership, perched on the threshold of heavenly light, with one foot on Mount Olympus only to be shoved back with brute force by a bunch of old, hellish ogres appointed by Zeus.

The quote came from Albert Camus, mulling on the absurdity of existence. The philosopher drew the sentence from the Greek myth of Sisyphus, the tragic noble who, after cheating death twice, was punished by the vindictive Gods to the task of pushing a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down every time it was about to hit the top.

Thus Sisyphus had to repeat the action again and again, up and up the slope and down and down it rolled, until eternity. The rock would never reach the summit, and Sisyphus would never stop pushing it.

What is the takeaway? In the sick minds of the spiteful Gods, Camus writes, "there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour".

Mr Pita is being punished for cheating death -- he and his party, for surviving the political execution suffered by his predecessors Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, and also their ideological forebears of the 1932 Revolution. The MFP have defied the gods and their archangels; they have the nerve to outsmart the system rigged against them and win the most votes in the latest election.

How could they! Fine, send them to the slope with that rock!

Watching Mr Pita being grilled in parliament on Thursday by former coalition party members, their theatrics at once arrogant and pathetic, and by the military-handpicked senators, their deliberate twist of Mr Pita's policy points bordering on self-delusion, was like watching Sisyphus live on TV.

When they took turns attacking him about "the abolition of Section 112" -- which is not what the MFP has proposed -- it felt not just like theatre of the absurd but a National Stonewalling Contest for the prize of Golden Banana.

The whole thing was an unbearable blood-sport for the 14 million citizens who voted for the condemned man (or 27 million if we include those who supported the eight new coalition parties). We don't recall seeing the same kind of fiery Inquisition by MPs six years ago when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha was nominated for prime minister, even though Gen Prayut was backed by only a marginal formation of 251 MPs as opposed to Mr Pita's solid 311.

The mathematics, of course, were skewed by the senators. On Thursday, the oldies did what their appointers had appointed them to do: pushing anti-democratic agendas and blocking any progressive possibility. Mr Pita failed to become premier, receiving only 324 votes in favour, 182 against and 199 abstentions (he needed 375 votes to win).

The Sisyphean rolling of the stone will take place again next Wednesday with another round of voting, and I couldn't imagine myself sitting through another live telecast of Thai democracy being blatantly abused and the sovereignty of voters in Thailand being shoved down the mountain and flushed down the drains.

But then, no matter what, I have to sit through it. Camus again: "If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy." What the MFP and Mr Pita have done in the past two months was not just futilely, sorrowfully pushing the impossible boulder up the unforgiving hill. They have also kindled hopes and let us glimpse a version of the future that we were unable to imagine in the sulphurous post-coup air of five or six years ago.

And so there's joy to be savoured in that. Not the masochistic joy of seeing rightfully elected MPs being victimised by a handful of chosen errand-runners -- but a real joy that is only possible when you realise that not all is useless, not everything is futile, not everyone is asleep, and nearly everything that was once hidden under the table is now laid bare for all to see.

That future may not come soon, or may not come at all if Mr Pita and his team of paltry experience somehow botch it. But for now the story of Sisyphus, as Camus believed, teaches us about the higher, nobler fidelity that negates the Gods.

We will push that rock up together, no matter how many times it will roll down again. "The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

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.

Do you like the content of this article?