Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Sour Grapes of Wrath

I promised to discuss politics a little bit, but today we're in a bit of a holding pattern.  There are supposedly "peace talks" going on right now, which is an odd concept since both sides deny that there's any kind of "war" going on.  So, I'm running to the TV to watch these talks right now.

So ... I watched the entire thing and the punditry is going strong on all channels right now.  A commentator  recently accused me of not being neutral, which is a little unfair as I have been known to be quite impatient with all sides in these wars, but it was clear that, from any non-partisan, logical, Harvard Debate Club point of view, Abhisit outmanoevered the red shirt negotiators at every turn.  Nevertheless, I do believe that in a very real sense, the red shirts won this round.  They did not, and probably will not, win the dissolution of parliament, their ostensible goal, but in a long-term sense they achieved much more.

The red shirt group won the appearance of legitimacy, a serious forum, and a chance to state their case in a very public avenue.  They also won  a divorce from Thaksin, managing to present a credible picture that they are not his tools, and indeed managing to marginalize him from the terms of discourse.

Dr Weng, a deeply committed person whom I respect, was right on target when he explained that Thailand isn't really that democratic at the moment, but his rhetoric started to go way over the top when he accused this government of being a fascist dictatorship and of giving orders to kill people — a problem much more prevalent during the Thaksin administration.  Dr Weng also made sweeping generalizations, such as "In every civilized nation, when people protest, the government always changes."  (He should be old enough to remember Kent State, he's older than me.)

Jatupon struck rather a persistent note by simply saying over and over that the government should resign; by the third hour his demagoguery had become wearying and even the smooth Abhisit was visibly bored.  Of the red shirts, Veera came across as the most reasonable.

Abhisit seemed Mr Voice of Reason himself as he deconstructed their arguments and made a case for caution, thoroughness, and a real respect for all sides of the argument.  He made it clear that he wasn't buying any "people power" arguments when only a small segment of the people were represented.  And he never said he wouldn't dissolve the house.

When reduced to sound bites, however, as it inevitably must be for television, Jatupon's black-and-white reductio may well prove to be more emotionally appealing that Abhisit's reasonableness.  I don't think that most people are going to bother to watch a three-hour debate over and over before making up their mind.  How this plays out, therefore, is really up to the media.  They can probably push this in either direction.

After two weeks of weird rituals and wishy-washy decisionmaking, the red shirts needed something to show they weren't just a bunch of superstitious bumpkins.  This debate has probably done the trick by presenting them on an equal footing in a public arena with the government, an achievement which the yellow shirts never attained.  In letting this happen, this government has shown itself to be more democratic that its detractors would want us to believe.

Finally, at the end of the third hour, reality reared its ugly head.  The red shirts needed to go to the bathroom.  There was a serious discussion of where the best place to pee would be in order to avoid being beset by reporters.  At last, there was something everyone could agree on.


  1. The situation just rolls on and on. I do agree with you with regards to the reds need to distance themselves from Thaskin. They have gone a couple of rungs up the legitimacy ladder, but in my opinion so do the yellows - elections please.


  2. one can imagine these "talks" as part of an election campaign. The soft pasty faced city people on one side vs the dark, weathered country people on the other side - so leaving aside any of their rhetoric, who do you think the farmers in Isaan will see as their representatives? Who do you think they'll vote for in the next election? Abhisit needs to be far more media savvy than this to get his message across.

  3. Both of you are absolutely right. Abhisit explained, quite rightly, that a new election result won't be accepted by one side or another as long as the rules for that election are still up in the air. The government suggested a referendum on the 6 or 7 points of contention in the current constitution so that when the election occurs, no one will claim that its results are invalidated by a faulty set of election guidelines. It also pointed out that it's not going to be in power much longer anyway. These are all eminently reasonable ideas. Abhisit explained very eloquently why having an election tomorrow, without real controls in place, would not solve the credibility gap. But one-liners and a compelling look, in the end, play well in media. I've often told my democatic party friends that they need to learn more from Thaksin.