Them Ol'middle class Bangkokian blues
There's a saying from even before Thaksin Shinawatra became prominent in politics: ''Provincial people voted them in, Bangkok people kicked them out.'' The saying refers to the succession of stomach-churning governments during the 1990s democracy experiment. Regime after regime, the provinces voted in the corrupt and incompetent, while Bangkokians pressured each to step down. But for the past seven years, upcountry provincial folks have said, ''no, you're not going to kick this one out''.
Here we're discussing the Bangkok middle class. They are not the elites. The bulk of them are a couple of generations (give or take) removed from an immigrant or refugee boat or rural Thailand. We speak of them in general terms, as there are many exceptions, including those who support Thaksin.
I myself am only one generation removed from a working-class family in Nakhon Ratchasima. This is a testament to opportunities and social mobility in Thailand, with hard work and a bit of luck; building connections doesn't hurt either.
In recent Thai political history, democracy and good governance have always been at odds, and the pattern is frustrating for the Bangkok middle class. Once they thought Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party was the answer. People are susceptible to a good marketing campaign, which often paints mere illusions.
After the 2006 military coup, the Bangkok middle class took it for granted that the old elites would sort it out and set Thailand straight. That was a mistake. The old elites have proven to be the least in touch with reality, while the new elites are the most in touch. Meanwhile, the Bangkok middle class remains confused, caught between illusion and reality.
Over the past seven years, the Bangkok middle class has generally seen the Democrat Party as the right choice, but that too was a mistake. In hindsight, it was perhaps more wishful thinking than anything else. Today, they are viewed as merely the lesser of the two evils, except to their die-hard fans.
Confused and frustrated, here are the main complaints of the middle class: If the elites are the backbone of the country, then that's autocracy; if the working class is the backbone, then that's Marxism. It is only when the middle class plays the main role that democracy comes around.
So why is it that the voice of the middle class is so disregarded by the self-proclaimed democracy enthusiasts in favour of the voice of the poor? They must be Marxist agitators in disguise.
In addition, if education is a criterion for a healthy democracy, why then do the least educated in the country get to dictate the course of the country at the ballot box? Furthermore, while everyone pays taxes one way or another, why is it that it's mainly the Bangkok middle class who pay income tax?
One man, one vote is fine in principle. But why in a country with a workforce of 38 million do only two million actually pay income tax? This isn't equality; it's favouritism. You put more in the coffer, but still get the same one vote in return. Where's the line between democracy and Marxism, the middle class asks. Why shouldn't each person put in the same percentage of their income in return for their one vote?
Then there's the person the middle class views as the most corrupt manipulator, a fugitive criminal who controls the ballot box and dictates to the Thai government. He is the darling of the poor because he throws populist policies at them, a portion of which are paid for by the hard-earned money contributed by the middle class in income tax.
It's a masturbatory circle between the new elites and the poor, and they don't even have the courtesy to send the Bangkok middle class an invitation card. So, indeed, they are angry and frustrated. But above all, they are confused. Democracy sounded great in school. But the reality has always been that the corrupt and incompetent are in charge, with the blessing of the poor majority. What the hell is going on here? Thus the Bangkok middle class find themselves in the streets and following the lead of Suthep Thaugsuban, of all people _ an old-school politician with all the baggage that they despise in the first place.
As a member of the Bangkok middle class, allow me to say this: People, get over yourselves. Life was never meant to be fair. You have been too busy making money and dancing to K-pop music, while letting the elites, both old and new, play you for fools, and now the provincial poor see you as the enemy. You are trapped, squeezed and marginalised. Blame no one but yourself.
Do something constructive about it. Protest and rally, but don't overthrow he system of electoral democracy. Don't rely on the old elites, they are outdated. Don't blame the poor; they are being used as you have been used. Take it upon yourself to bring about change.
Do you want to be the backbone, the class that decides the direction of this country? Democracy is strength in numbers, so expand and recruit. Work with the poor. Spread educational opportunities. Expand the opportunities for wealth. Socially and economically, bring the lower classes into the fold of the middle class.
Drop the urban arrogance. Stop looking down on upcountry folks whose ancestors likely came from Laos. Laos might be yesterday's joke. But today, Laos is the new cool. Trust me, I'm a cool dude and only one generation removed from the land of Ya Mo _ the wife of the deputy governor of Nakhon Ratchasima who saved the city from advancing Lao forces in 1826. But the Lao influx and influence in northern Thailand didn't end then; it continues to this day.
It's hard work and it's for the long term, but barring a worldwide meteor-related apocalypse or alien invasion that creates an extinction event, Thailand has time. Build the future instead of tearing apart the present in the hope of a quick fix.
Make enemies of Lao-Thais, and you will lose at the ballot box every time. Make friends with them, and one day the Thaksin machine will lose.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at email@example.com.
Bangkok Post columnist
Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.