Monday, July 11, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Puppetry - Day Two

I read in the paper today that Thaksin may be appointed some kind of "trade ambassador" for Thailand and will be sent from place to place to make trade deals on behalf of the country, travelling on his Montenegrin passport.I also read that the case under which he was convicted will be reopened, and that in terms of cabinet appointments:


The final decision [on the allocation of Cabinet posts] rests with Thaksin alone," said a source from Chart Pattana Puea Pandin... (today's Nation)


They don't seem to be making a very good case for this incoming government not being run by Thaksin!  This is probably not a good omen when it comes to predicting a coming storm.


I was told by a prominent member of an anti-Thaksinite faction (not the democrats) yesterday that I "shouldn't worry", because there's "more going on backstage than meets the eye."  I'd really like to know what that is, but like the rest of you, I will probably have to wait.  


There is quite a lot of goodwill right now, even among people who didn't care for the Thaksin administration, and a lot of hope.  But such stories in the paper, even if untrue, do contribute towards a general "sinking feeling"....


We're all taking a deep breath....

Monday, July 4, 2011

Pinocchio Takes Command

 Let's see how the pretty puppet does her 'job' ... said one of my Facebook friends when I suggested that if PT makes a stab at its promises and doesn't play up the Thaksin angle too much we might have a bit of calm.  I don't doubt that at the moment, we are about to welcome Pinocchio into government house.  Thaksin has been answering questions from the press as though he had been elected, and Yingluck has been coy and not forthcoming.  But what if that changes?  What if the puppet wants to become a real girl?  That would be the one factor no one has yet allowed for, because it is a complete unknown.  Pundits can calculate everything else to the nth degree, but not the extent to which Yingluck could "declone" herself.  


As a novelist I have to believe that people can grow, that societies can change, and that darkness can be dissolved into light.  One of my foreign journalist friends wrote to me, "I can't really take sides, but privately I think this is a sad day, because violence has won."  I would like to begin the day more optimistically than that.


Now that the Thaksinistas have an absolute majority (it would take 13 red cards to derail that, which is perhaps unlikely) it is perhaps time to look at the good things one remembers about their previous time in office, and to revisit the bad things as well, in the hope that we can have more of the former and preferably, none of the latter.


There are good things.  Do you remember how long it used to take to get a passport or an I.D. card?  The Thaksinite efficiency, the smiling bureaucrats who suddenly started to learn from the McDonald's customer service playbook, was a breath of fresh air in those days.  


I was delighted, during the Thaksin era, to be put on a government committee working with extraordinarily gifted kids.  It was a great idea, though it also made me see the mechanism of corruption at first hand.  I left this committee after objecting to the 200,000 baht chairs (EACH!) that I was asked to approve for a new building that should have become a great showcase center for gifted kids.  But this kind of thing didn't take away the fact that it was a great concept and very forward-looking and innovative.


The bad things came gradually.  Freedom of the press started to go south ... not via the classic method of dragging people off to the gulag, but by misusing the judiciary and the laws that criminalize slander.  And speaking of south, I don't suppose that Thaksin personally ordered the Tak Bai massacre, but this was a human rights shocker.  The south didn't forget, and I don't think PT got many votes down there.  Luckily, "drug lords" are not a voting bloc, because the extrajudicial killing of thousands of them to fulfill a drug war quota was just another symptom of an administration drunk with power.


As for corruption - well, the yellow shirts, rather thoughtlessly, made it their main cavil when they could have got so much more international sympathy by attacking some of the issues in the preceding paragraph.  The corruption was of course monumental, but it looked like sour grapes, since previous governments were hardly shining examples of purity.  


Unfortunately, the erosion of press freedom, the increased authoritarianism and the heightened corruption may have started in the Thaksin era, but they didn't stop later.  And no one can deny that the well-funded Thaksinite PR machine has done a very fine job of pinning all these things on their successors.


If Yingluck is a puppet, then she is not an unknown quantity.  After a honeymoon period, things will go wrong, probably in exactly the ways the pundits are already predicting.


But if she becomes a "real girl"?  If this were to happen, all bets would be off and we could dare to hope for a genuine reconciliation.







Sunday, July 3, 2011

Life will go on ... won't it?



Tomorrow ... well, later today as it is getting towards midnight ... we'll know many things.  We also won't know several other, perhaps more important things.

We'll know whether the Thaksinites have enough parliamentary seats to take over the whole shebang and remake the country in their own image, or whether there will be two to three weeks of hideous squabbling dragging in all sorts of - what are they called? - invisible powers? unseen forces?

People have enumerated the good and bad in the two main sides at length, and pundits of great wisdom and experience have come down on one side or another.  Should neither side have enough brownie points, the army is also mobilizing, ostensibly to protect us from the benighted Cambodians.

I am almost certain that the following questions will not be answered no matter who gets to form the next government....

Can any government transform this country into one of inquiring minds, young people who dare to question, a country where innovation is rewarded instead of blocked at every turn, and where few people can see beyond the next few months, and no one thinks of posterity?

Will there ever be a proper educational system in this country where kids do not learn everything by rote?

Will the "standard bureaucratic bribe" fall below the oft-quoted 30% "off the top" for every transaction?

Will there ever be an election in Thailand in which votes are not bought and sold?   I read in the morning's paper about several people being caught with stacks 100 baht notes all ready to hand out.  I've read that this may be the dirtiest election held yet.  If so, it is not nearly so blatant; it must have gone underground....

***
Last week, my fellow Distinguished Silpathorn Artist, Bruce Gaston, was hideously mugged for his iPhone and had to have 32 stitches, in some alley near his house.  But weeks before that, he had called me up and said that while walking home, some people had been staring strangely, looking very threatening, and for the first time in the almost 40 years he's lived here he didn't feel like this was Thailand anymore.

I lived for years in what could be called a "bad neighbourhood" in L.A.  I used to believe that in Bangkok one didn't have to take any of the precautions that one takes for granted in a large American city.  I really believed that one can walk anywhere in this city and feel completely safe....

Yesterday the police came to my house.  They're investigating, still, the death threats I received a year ago from somewhere in cyberspace.  I was surprised that they were still doing so, but apparently they do take it seriously although I am sure the trail is very cold.

***
Early tonight I received an email from no less a figure than the Secretary-General of ASEAN, a friend of mine since my very early 20s.  He said simply, "we are all on edge."

See you on the other side of the tunnel....

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Since political campaigning is suspended....



No one is allowed to "campaign" from now until the polls close, so I guess those airwaves that have recently been full of political ranting are now free for satirists like "Purakhanda" to point out the lighter side of it all.

Sometimes I think politicians should be banned permanently, and only satirists allowed to run the country....

Friday, July 1, 2011

Siam Sinfonietta at Work and Play


Put together a little video showing our young musicians having the time of their lives....