The importance of being Abhisit

The importance of being Abhisit

Take a second. Think about it. It's a bizarre world we live in. Stand back and look at today from the perspective of 15 years ago.

Abhisit Vejjajiva is being stripped of his military rank and facing criminal charges, deemed evil personified. Meanwhile Chalerm Yubamrung enjoys honours and adulation, rank and prestige. He's the face and voice of the government of the people of Thailand.

The golden boy now gets bullied, scorned and scared. The bully has become the nation's top politician, next to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. If someone had told me 15 years ago that this day would come, I would have said, "Yeah right, and Laos will surpass us in mobile telecommunications technology."

If politics is a dirty game, then Thai politics is the sewer beneath the biblical Sodom on a very hot and arid day. This is not to say Mr Abhisit should or should not be stripped or charged with anything. Let the powers-that-be play the game and tug along on a leash their minions on both sides of the political divide.

However, it is interesting to posit the question: How has it come to this for Abhisit Vejjajiva?

There were the days when Mr Abhisit was everyone's darling. Everywhere he went, people "greeeeeed" at him, as Thais do - which means, they squealed in adulation.

Back in 1997, as a fresh graduate returning to Thailand, I first saw Mr Abhisit on a TV talk show where everyone of course "greeeeeed" at him. And why not? He personified everything that the Thai psyche values.

Oxford-educated with a high society last name. He was good looking, intelligent and articulate, he was sincere and honest, even had impeccable integrity, and also very importantly, rich.

The boy wonder, the knight in shining armour; there was a time when everyone had only good thoughts of him and for him. Meanwhile in 1997, Mr Chalerm was one of the most notorious characters in Thai politics. People "greeeeeed" at him too, and then ran the other way.

Today, Mr Chalerm glitters in a pink Bentley, while Mr Abhisit faces murder charges. Who would have thought? Times have changed.

Even after the uprising and bloody end to the political violence of April and May 2010, Mr Abhisit was still a hot commodity, deemed the saviour of Bangkok. In July, two months after the uprising, I was invited to join a panel discussion where he was to give the opening address. The event was held at Siam Commercial Bank Park Plaza.

When Mr Abhisit walked in he was mobbed by an adoring crowd of women and women trapped in male bodies. They all "greeeeeed" as if Justin Bieber were making an appearance at a junior high school, singing "Baby, baby, baby, ooh/ I thought you'd always be mine."

Today, there are still many places and circumstances where he would get mobbed, but not necessarily by an adoring crowd. There's still an adoring crowd mind you, but there's a bigger crowd who would likely string him up on a rope. Mr Chalerm, on the other hand, moves about as the most important and respected man in town. Times have certainly changed.

What went wrong? The answer is simple: Mr Abhisit lost - and to the victor goes the spoils, the honour to write history and the privilege to bully the loser.

In April and May 2010, he faced an uprising. Tens of thousands marched around the capital, stormed places, including a satellite station and a hospital, and occupied a district. Bombs and shots went off, protesters, soldiers and civilians lay dead. It was chaos. It was anarchy.

On top of that, Mr Abhisit had to deal with tomato police and watermelon soldiers. He had to beg, bribe and bully the army to get its act together. This was the second greatest test in his political career thus far, and in hindsight he passed it quite well given the circumstances.

The greatest test of his political career, however, was to consolidate the victory and stamp the mark of his leadership on the nation. The opportunity was there, the time was ripe, but instead he spent the following year doing everything he could to lose the next general election.

For an entire year, he allowed the nation to drift further and further into division and disillusion, as he himself shrank further and further away from leadership and responsibility.

During an interview late in 2010, I questioned the then prime minister on his inability to bring about reconciliation as promised. Agitated by the question, his answer was, "I extended my hand. They wouldn't take it. What do you want me to do?"

"What do you want me to do?" That said it all. If the prime minister doesn't know what to do or is incapable of taking action, then what chance does the nation have?

This and his inability (or apathy) to rein in corrupt coalition partners and those of his own party did much to damage not just his government's image, but his own. Suddenly, people were coining a new phrase, "Sick of Abhisit; Hate Thaksin". Then the other side came up with the golden girl to challenge him.

So he lost.

Today, there are those who question his honesty, given the alleged draft-dodging issue. There are those who question his integrity, given the characters he surrounded himself with when he was prime minister. There are even those who question his intelligence, given the rock and the hard place he got caught in. There are even those who called him a murderer.

Meanwhile, people kowtow to Mr Chalerm everywhere he goes. Times have most certainly changed.

If 15 years ago you had told me Mr Abhisit would be accused of murder, while Mr Chalerm was the hero of the national government of the people of Thailand, I would have said, "Yeah right, and there will be another military coup in Thailand."

If politics is a dirty game, then Thai politics is the sewer beneath the biblical Sodom on a very hot and arid day. It stank of the faeces of military strongmen, gangsters, provincial lords and cutthroat merchants. Like it or not, if he swims with them long enough, even the golden boy takes on the same odour.

The Pheu Thai government is out to get him - and if anyone tells me that his troubles are not politically motivated, I would reply, "Yeah right, my jasmine rice ain't white either."

It takes but a little more than a year for a leader of a nation to become that kid in the schoolyard that gets bullied. Only a decade for a golden boy to become so hated and hunted. Meanwhile, the man of the hour is deputy prime minister, police captain Chalerm Yubamrung, PhD, VC, DSO, MC, lord of all beasts in the land and fishes in the sea.

It's a bizarre world we live in. Take a second and think about it. Then we might all want to "greeeeeed" and run away.

Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

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