V stands for very confusing Thai politics

V stands for very confusing Thai politics

The V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask is emerging as a prominent symbol of Thailand's political conflict, but for some observers it is also a case of V for Very Confusing.

I won't dwell on the seeming contradiction in the choice of the visage as a symbol against the so-called Thaksin regime.

Some people argue it does not make a lot of sense for opponents of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to pick the face of Guy Fawkes, the 17th century figure who plotted a failed assassination attempt against King James I, as the symbol of their movement.

For these critics, the democratically elected former prime minister, often seen as an anti-establishment, anti-conservatism champion, should have been someone the real Guy Fawkes would have approved of, not protested against.

For them, those who pick the mask as a symbol of their social media protest campaign are thus too ignorant of history to carry out a meaningful political protest.

I believe these critics are correct about the historical connection - or lack thereof - but they could be missing a larger point about the masked protest.

Personally, I think the Guy Fawkes mask has taken on a new meaning that is largely cut off from its origin in British history, since being used by the Occupy Wall Street movement and during the Arab Spring.

For modern-day protesters, the mask is less about an attempt to restore a Catholic monarch to the British throne as it was in history, than it is a symbol of defiance as featured in the movie V for Vendetta.

Since the 2006 movie about fighting for freedom, the white visage with a frozen smile on it has become a symbol of resistance against any form of tyranny.

For me, it's therefore not too far-fetched for anti-Thaksin groups to take up the mask as the symbol of their campaign - especially if they view the former prime minister as the embodiment of oppression.

What I find very confusing, however, is not the Guy Fawkes mask but what are being viewed as acts of tyranny or democracy in this country.

The Pheu Thai government is supposed to be an extension of the Thaksin regime. From its own viewpoint or at least from how it has sought to portray itself, the party is more of a force for democracy and egalitarian values.

But look at how the party spokesman Prompong Nopparit responded to the online campaign urging Facebook users to change their profile picture to that of the Guy Fawkes mask and post the message: "The people's army has risen and it will root out the Thaksin regime from this country."

Not only did Mr Prompong say the protest campaign was "psychologically disturbing" but he also threatened to prosecute users who posted the messages on their Facebook pages which he said could be in violation of the Computer Crime Act.

Yet Pheu Thai is supposed to be for democracy, a big part of which rests on freedom of expression and respect for the minority or differences in opinion, does it not?

Or is it that the party indeed stands for democracy, but does not mind using tyrannical means to achieve it?

The inconsistency can be found among the anti-Thaksin, anti-Pheu Thai groups as well.

Ironically, many of these people would say they are also for democracy and freedom - thus the Guy Fawkes gesture - but they do not seem to mind supporting a military putsch as a means to stop what they view as a "parliamentary dictatorship", or tyranny of those who prefer executive power to prevail over counter-balancing mechanisms.

Many of these anti-Thaksin figures, especially those who belong to ultra-royalist groups, would often resort to such undemocratic means as banishing their opponents overseas if they dared to disagree with them.

What is more confusing is that some of these people who have placed the Guy Fawkes mask on their Facebook profile to protest against the "undemocratic Thaksin regime" could be in support of the lese majeste law which carries harsh punishments for people judged as having insulted the monarchy, even though the law is largely viewed as being anti-democratic.

So what is democratic and what is autocratic? It seems to me that while opposing groups in Thailand claim they are for democracy, they are also ready to embrace authoritarianism when it is expedient for them.

Pity Guy Fawkes. He would have trouble choosing which side to back in Thai politics, as they all look the same, by and large.


Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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