Beyond kill-bill fever, whistles and photo-ops
From the vantage point of a Haagen-Dazs parlour, democracy was alive, kicking, pretty, high-pitched and well-dressed, mostly in black and white. Let's say it's democracy, for convenience's sake, when in fact it was a hearty turnout at Ratchaprasong on Thursday to oppose a clause, just a clause, of the ludicrous amnesty bill.
Whistle-blowers came out to form a heaving mass of humanity, armpit sweat mocktailed with perfumed shoulders, as whistle vendors cajoled protesters with hard-sell tactics. Among the earnest opposition, there were selfie-takers, Instagram self-promoters, Facebook "Like"-seekers - a minority yes, but still a tad too many. Revolution is hard work; it's also photo-op galore. But since everyone is entitled to express their view, in person or online, let's give them the benefit of the doubt. At least for now.
At Ratchaprasong, shouts of "Get out!" rang sporadically through the crowd, echoed by cheers. For those who remember the turbulent mid-2000s, that phrase brings back a pre-coup deja vu. Sure, the yellow shirts have officially bowed out, but it's clear that that colour has metamorphosed into a mentality, as indelible as a collective tattoo.
Thus the narrative: the Silom, Asoke and Ratchaprasong crowds drew energy from each other in their united hatred of Thaksin Shinawatra, whose miscalculation and selfishness have backfired on him and his sister so spectacularly. The whistle-blowers' main message is corruption and the abuse of power, targeted specifically at the ex-PM and his cronies and how the bill would absolve them. "We don't want cheaters!" (aka "we don't want Thaksin!"), that's the allegorical writing on Amarin Plaza's stucco wall. Nobody wants cheaters, and we all would like to see that "justice" is served. But while this dumb amnesty bill has many rotten parts in its content as well as in the way it was hijacked by Thaksin's parliamentary minions, the ignorance, voluntarily or not, of its other implications - mainly the deaths, the fate of ordinary citizens jailed as political prisoners, and the bill's failure to at least discuss the lese majeste cases - will only lead to blindsided justice, if any, and deeper cracks in our already riven society.
Tomorrow, the vantage point from the Haagen-Dazs parlour at Ratchaprasong will yield a different political vista from Thursday's. Democracy, justice, freedom and abuse of power will take on another set of meanings when Sombat Boonngamanong, leader of the Red Sunday Group, organises a rendezvous. The dress code won't be elegant black and white, but clear-and-present red, presumably the colour of blood. The chants won't be "Get out!" or "We don't want corruption!" - but "Murderers!", or something along those lines, targeted at the authorities behind the killing of red-shirt protesters in 2010. In his message calling for tomorrow's gathering, Mr Sombat, known as the champion of the "ideological reds", has dubbed Ratchaprasong "the killing field".
(Actually there are other killing fields in our recent history that involved the military and politicians versus citizens, for instance Tak Bai, but I've said that many times before.)
Once again, the posh Ratchaprasong has become a contested background of differing memories. It's tempting to see this as an absurd theatre of our current pick-and-choose opposition - hearing what each of us wants to hear and disregarding the rest, missing the big points along the way - but without getting too idealistic, we can also try to see this as the beginning of a new phase. In the past week, some red shirts have had to swallow their pride and admit that some of the accusations thrown at them by the other side were true, such as how they did everything to save their political master and not for "democracy". Likewise, the Bangkok anti-Thaksin camp have had to admit that their whistle-blowing flash mob strategy, while genuinely valid, has a big hole in it, not to mention the dark undercurrent calling for the heads of Thaksin and Ms Yingluck which is a tacit call for a coup d'etat.
Thoughtful protesters have to step up to another level. Thinking red shirts have to isolate Thaksin and Pheu Thai from their messy equation and be more vociferous in their criticism of the party's betrayal of the grass roots.
Meanwhile, the whistle-blowers have to plug the hole in their demands, by announcing that while they dislike the government with a passion, they do not endorse a coup. That's not too much to ask now that we have to move beyond the kill-bill fever, and only then will our pipe dream of democracy become more than a save-Thaksin crusade or collection of pretty Instagram photos.
Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.
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.