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.