Wake up, Thailand

Wake up, Thailand

Traditionally we Thais are not very political. A person's political allegiance never mattered much. But these days, we eye each other more suspiciously. Flag colours? Simply red? Watch out.

Headband, Thai flag or simply red. What about the wristband? Look at the T-shirt. Is that a whistle? Suddenly these are the things we notice about other people when out in public.

Line app groups are broken up and Facebook friends are blocked. Scroll down one's Instagram, and you'll know exactly which friend not to see for a while.

When I meet new people, I immediately put my hands up in such a way that it could lead to a wai, or a handshake, or a hug, or to block a punch. You just never know these days.

Three years ago I was called a yellow-leaning fascist, an ammart-loving elitist. These days I get called a red-leaning turncoat slave in the pay of Thaksin Shinawatra. Put the two together and it really is a compliment.

There are too many people swinging on the scrotum of either Thaksin or Suthep Thaugsuban. This writer prefers to be a man apart, vilified by both sides.

Traditionally in Thailand, squabbles, conflicts, coups and changes usually occur around or near the top of the pyramid. We in the middle and lower parts just sort of hope each episode is over with quickly and painlessly enough. But there were times when the people got involved.

The uprisings in 1973 and 1976 were during the age of revolutions. There was communist insurgency during the Cold War era. But otherwise, the only other time the people got involved was the events leading to Black May 1992. Things were getting out of hand, but ended in a way traditionally Thai.

The King called in the two combatants, Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon and Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, and smoothed it over _ and just like that, it was over.

The top always took care of us.

This was especially true during the 1980s, a decade of steady economic growth and political stability, except for perhaps a small, unsuccessful coup attempt or two. Otherwise, we could trust the man in charge to keep the house in order. His name was Gen Prem Tinlasulanonda.

But that was then. This is now.

The past eight years have been quite a rude awakening of the Thai political consciousness.

From the yellow shirts that first gathered in 2005 (it was still Bangkok-centric) to the red shirts a few years later (an upcountry awakening) to the protestors today (also included people from the south and all walks of life).

Suddenly every other Thai person has an opinion on politics and doesn't mind yelling it (or whistling it) at the top of their lungs, or typing it quickly and angrily on Twitter or Facebook.

But it's a sensory overload. The emotional flood of political awareness are rendering otherwise reasonable and decent people into the opposite.

Case in point: Criticise Pheu Thai or the red, and you're an enemy of democracy itself, conspiring to establish a dictatorship.

Criticise the Democrats or the flag group, and you're a Cambodian provocateur paid by Thaksin, and an anti-monarchist to boot.

Criticise both sides, and you're an elitist Cambodian provocateur, anti-democracy slave, red-shirt ultra-royalist fascist, yellow-shirt traitor to King and country, in the pay of Thaksin. Make sense? Of course not, but here we are.

In the words of the 2005 Academy Award-winning best original song written for a motion picture, it's hard out there for a pimp. It really is, folks.

The question then becomes, how do we harness this political awakening into a positive force, rather than a stupid one? The key is to look at the positive aspects of both the flag group and the simply red.

For the former, they believe good governance is just as, if not more, important than a democratic election. For the latter, they believe the political right and equality that comes from a democratic election is of the utmost importance.

Neither side is against a democratic election or good governance; each side just has different priorities. If one cannot appreciate this (and many will refuse to, as it is easier to hate) then the division can never be mended. Over the past months we saw many simply reds protesting against the blanket amnesty bill. We now see farmers on the march to demand payment from Pheu Thai for the rice-pledging scheme.

Perhaps there's a burgeoning realisation that Thaksin and Pheu Thai are not exactly what many had hoped for. In addition, there are many people among the flag group admitting that Mr Suthep and the Democrats are not who they want in charge.

The problem for those people on both sides is that first, they have nowhere else to go, no other political camp to identify with. Second, at this moment many are still too emotionally charged by anger and the blame game.

But there is a bridge there, however small. It's just a matter of seeing it, allowing the time to let intellect gain the upper hand over emotion, and one day, crossing it to meet in the middle. This is the third option.

Open your eyes.

Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at voranai@gmail.com.

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

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