Monday, May 10, 2010

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Well, after a lovey-dovey sort of Wednesday where everyone saw the Prime Minister's roadmap towards a new Thailand as a wonderful way out for all those who have waited and waited and waited ....

Now a lot of spoilsports are showing up.  Despite the red shirts ostensibly accepting the compromise, more grenades went off, killing a couple of cops.  More red shirts are coming in from out of town.  Oddly enough, the red shirt leaders deny responsibility for anything bad.  The multicolored are pissed that the government has caved in to the demands of what they see as rebels.  The yellows are demanding Abhisit's resignation over his being so nice.  The red shirts are saying Abhisit is only pretending to be nice.

I haven't posted much recently because to be honest, people in Bangkok have more or less adjusted to the fact that a number of Starbucks, five-star hotels, nice movie theatres and a great English language bookstore have become inaccessible and that a square kilometer or so of this huge city has become its own country with its own government and army.  The atmosphere has started to become one of "mai pen rai" ... which is certainly scary when you think about it. .  The Emporium is getting rich off Siam Paragon's woes, but don't they have the same owner?  A huge fire sale at Emporim Stadium of things that couldn't be sold in Siam Paragon over the weekend attracted huge bargain-hunting crowds.  Up to 80% off high society items meant the real thing was almost as cheap as a fake.  What is the world coming to?

Since nobody believes anyone, many people are just ignoring things or getting on with their lives

Which could be very frightening.  Before the bloodbath of October 14, 1973, which ushered in the brief shining moment of "real" democracy in Thailand, there was also a feeling that it was all going to be negotiated away.

It's not pride that comes before a fall ... it's complacency.

I woke up this morning and the red shirts have not yet dispersed.  Reportedly their leaders met for five hours without coming to a decision.  The real issue appears to be whether the leaders will in fact be able to get bailed out for their various criminal misdeeds.  They've presented an alternate demand now: they are willing to disband, and give themselves up to due process, on condition that the prime minister also be prosecuted for the same incidents for which they are being prosecuted ... something of a non-starter and clearly just a way of stringing this out.

Little has been heard from Mr. Thaksin except for some (video-less) phone conversations about which there are rumors of fakery.  It also seems that a funeral service was held for him at a family mausoleum, though it was supposedly a "fake funeral" to avert negative karma.  Yes, we do have such events in Thailand quite often.

Last night Abhisit gave, for the first time, a highly personal TV address that didn't contain too many long Sanskrit words.  Putting his position in words of one syllable was a really good idea.  A learned vocabulary suggests disengagement.  I wonder if he reads reads this blog.  He should; I always give good advice .... :)

Indeed, the British election is getting almost as much air time these days in the land of pagodas, politics and prostitutes.  It looks like they may have a hung parliament which is of course the usual state of affairs in this multi-party country.  This makes Christiane Amanpour's attempts to bully Abhisit in Hard Talk seem pretty lame, when we she was going on and on about how he would defend himself against the accusation of being "unelected" ... In Britain, the Prime Minister is NEVER directly elected at all ... one elects representatives and the parties take turns trying to form a government in order of viability ... well, Thailand happens to have a system basically modeled on that British system.  Abhisit's failure, however, was not to say to the woman, "Why are you asking me this?  Didn't you learn about the parliamentary system in school?"

Of course this doesn't explain why there aren't hordes of British redshirts throwing shit at Downing Street or bombing the Houses of Parliament.

The reason is very simple.  I went to school in Britain.  I therefore have learnt how this is supposed to work.  So have most people in the UK, so they know that seizing parliament isn't "real democracy."

One of the biggest cries of "foul" we hear here is "The party with the most votes didn't get to form the government ... so it must be illegitimate."  We hear this cry because the parliamentary process is being inadequately taught.

This not the American system, where the president's name is on the ballot (though even there, the popular vote doesn't guarantee a win.)  However, people are not being educated about the difference.  They have not been taught that having the MOST votes is not the same as controlling a MAJORITY of the seats.  The two are only the same if you get more than half the votes.

They simply have never been taught this here.  And, to quote Oscar Hammerstein II for a moment, "You've got to be carefully taught."

Now, there is plenty of corruption to go around.  In Thailand, we are basically at about the beginning of the nineteenth century.  The age of Pocket Boroughs and Rotten Boroughs (if you watched Black Adder Part III, or went to school in the UK, you know about these.)  Such important figures as William Pitt the Elder got into politics that way, and surely he is no less important a figure than Abhisit.  Thailand is a little head in this stage, because representation is more proportional, but still not perfect ... one of the red shirts' legitimate grievances.

If we take Magna Carta as an arbitrary date for a start to democracy in Britain, then from then to the British reform that got rid of pocket boroughs is about six hundred years.  Thailand has arrived at this stage in less than a century.

Perhaps the apathy in Bangkok isn't really selfishness or lack of concern for fellow citizens.  Perhaps it is simply that the long view has kicked in.  If the 180 years of British history from the reform act of 1832 to the Hung Parliament 2010 can be proportionally squeezed, we will have a British system in only thirty years.

So I'm offering a video of Jay's first world premiere in lieu of reconciliation....

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