Mai pen rai no longer

Mai pen rai no longer

There is opportunity in crisis, the old adage tells us. Looking in the long term, something potentially wonderful may well come out of this decade-long political quagmire.

But of course, it will only come out if we push it out, rather than hold it back and shut it down.

Traditionally, change in Thailand occurred up top, while the citizenry were none the wiser. The appetite for change trickled down to the middle class and student movements in the 1970s and early 1990s. But still it was very much Bangkok-orientated.

Today, the elites on both sides continue to play their games. That’s the reality of life. But the difference is everyone else wants change too — from students to the middle and working classes, from Bangkok to the provinces.

The mai pen rai cultural attitude is diminishing fast, as everyone and their grandma hits the streets to demand change.

Looking at the big picture, we all want the same change. But we differ on how, and on our priorities. We are too divided by colour-coded politics and antagonistic mindsets.

Take away the puppet masters and tribal politics. Strip it down to the core principles and we have one group chanting for electoral democracy, with the other shouting for democratic governance.

There is no more mai pen rai attitude towards Bangkok dominance, or towards rampant corruption. But the people squabble over which should be tackled first. More importantly, they allow the elites on both sides to hold democratic principles hostage.

This is what makes Thai politics frustrating. In other countries, they argue over ideologies. Fascism and socialism. Conservative and liberal. In Thailand, we argue about elections and governance. It’s a chicken and egg debate — one can’t be without the other.

For the elites and their minions, it’s about control of power and wealth. For those who like to dramatise matters, it’s fascism versus democracy. For the people on the streets, it gets a bit complicated.

If one walked among the red shirts, one would realise there are many factions good and bad, but a sizeable number who simply just want free elections. They want representation. They want their voice to matter. They want democracy.

If one walked among the flag shirts, one would realise there are also factions good and bad, but a sizeable number who simply just want good governance. They want clean politics. They want a transparent system. They want democracy.

This is the complication. Two groups so vehemently against each other wanting basically the same thing in the end. If we cannot appreciate the common goal and work towards it, then the country can never move forward.

There are those who bark "fascist" against one group. There are those who howl "buffalo" against the other. There are those adamant about painting their side as the moral superior of the other, and on using insulting labels to discredit them.

These are the people contributing to tearing this country apart to serve their own self-righteous sanctimony and blind hatred. Don’t let them.

The only way to build and move forward is to come together. The mai pen rai attitude may be on the retreat, but let another saying be on the increase, mee sathi, or have a brain.

There isn’t a magic cure. The clouds won’t suddenly part and bestow a miracle. We the people just need to open our eyes. It’s not up to Thaksin Shinawatra, Suthep Thaugsuban or Prayuth Chan-ocha. It is up to us.

We can start by recognising that the person standing across the street wearing a different colour shirt is not the enemy. Walk over, meet somewhere in the middle. It could lead to something wonderful.

There are those who will scream at you for crossing. They’ll hurl insults and damnation. Cars on both sides will try to run you over. It takes courage to walk across that street, rather than hiding behind tribal fences. Bravery is to have the balls to stand apart, rather than follow a mob. Freedom is individualism, not group-thinking.

We have had 10 years of political strife. We have hated and we have killed. We have been tearing this country apart. Today, we are back living under the rule of a military coup, going round in a circle as we have for the past 82 years.

The public must recognise the common goal, so we stop letting others play us for fools. It’s good that there is less of the mai pen rai attitude. But to move forward we need remind ourselves, mee sathi.

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

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