Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dark Truth? or More Obfuscation?

As July 3 approaches, I'm getting more emails from friends overseas, asking me whether they should cancel their summer holiday in Thailand ... after all, there might be riots, killings, burnings of shopping malls, seizures of airports, and so on.  I've told them to bring their tourist dollars regardless.  After all, even during the worst moments of last year, the drama was only confined to limited areas.  And if things do look dire, we'll need the tourist dollars even more.

In fact, it is almost impossible to know what will happen AFTER July 3rd, although it is a virtual certainty that ON July 3rd, the Thaksinistas will get more votes than any other party, making Ms Shinawatra the most likely candidate for prime minister of Thailand.

Everyone is so confused about what might happen after that point that there's been an upsurge in omens, dream interpretations, and astrological pronouncements.  Indeed, my driver, the normally very down-to-earth Boonchuey, admitted to me that he had consulted an astrologer about the outcome of the election.

"Well, my astrologer says that Yingluck will become prime minister," he told me, "but will only remain so for a few days, because something dramatic is going to happen after that."

It is interesting also to note that many people I know, especially young people, have told me they're voting for Chuwit.  Why?  Because his campaign is more entertaining, apparently.  A number of members of my family are voting "No."  I ask them why, when such a vote is probably, to all intents and purposes tantamount to a vote for a party they don't want in power.  Their response is that they're too angry at the current lot even though philosophically more in tune with them.

Then, many of my young friends remember the Thaksin era for a certain improvement in the convenience of their lives — not having to wait in line to get a passport or an I.D. card, for instance.  Not having been massacred at Tak Bai or extrajudicially shot for being putative drug lords, and being so used to corruption that they really don't see what the problem is, they are quite nostalgic about that period.

One of the most interesting polls in the last few days was the blind poll carried out in the northeast by Khon Kaen University.  In this poll, people were asked given a series of policies announced by various parties, but were not told which party had promulgated which policy.  They were then asked to vote based on the policies alone.

Based on this alone, the present government won by a significant margin, and the Pheu Thai party, which is leading in fact by a large margin in that part of Thailand, fared poorly.

It seems that, in the area of that poll at least, the electorate isn't very well informed, and may not have a clue what they're voting for.  This is scary.

Since Yingluck refuses to debate Abhisit, there probably won't be any clear-cut choice between one set of policies and another.  Instead, the propaganda war is getting more and more focused though it's clear that the democrats have woken up rather late to the idea that they might actually need to carve out an identity.  For example, their newest campaign posters, instead of long lists of policies which clearly are not being read (at least by the participants of the above-named poll), now feature a simple declarative sentence: "I'll work for ALL our brothers and sisters — not for the benefit of JUST ONE MAN."  Well, this would have been a great message a month ago, but it might be too late now.  The idea of holding the a big pro-democrat rally right in the spot where the red shirts torched the mall finally shows a bit of chutzpah, though it can easily backfire.

However many moments of high drama the democrats produce, I think they're well aware that the numbers are not in their favor.  The Pheu Thai party will win the most seats in the next parliament.  However, unless they win an absolute majority, their seizing the reins of power is by no means assured.

According to an ABAC poll I saw this morning, if the election were held today, no party could form a government without the collusion of minor parties.  This poll also shows a whopping 30% undecided.

Polls aren't that scientific, but in this country they are probably even less scientific than elsewhere.

Our options seem to be as follows.

(a) Someone wins an absolute majority and receives a clear mandate.
(b) No one wins an absolute majority and someone cobbles together a coalition.
(c) The judiciary decides that someone cheated and nullifies the results.

(d) The army stages a coup.

Since it's clear that all of those possible outcomes will piss off a sizable percentage of the population, it follows that a degree of instability is also probable.

Still, my friends overseas, have no fear.  Tourists are always welcome here.  Come and enjoy the sights and sounds of this exotic cultural hub ... and who knows, you may happen to witness history in the making.

My friends from European Chamber Opera were stuck in Thailand during the airport closure.  Some panicked and left by bus and train, an arduous and exhausting journey that got them home no earlier than if they had stayed.  My friends who stayed behind told me that loved the extra vacation and they never felt unwelcome.  Some of them are here now, helping to plan our opera's UK tour.  I asked them if they were worried.  They said they'd seen it all before.

That, alas, is another risk.  If street protests become just another feature of the landscape along with traffic jams and tropical heat, they will inevitably become less effective, and someone will want to up the tension level.  Indeed, this already happened.  Many are appalled at the red shirts' arson, but one must ultimately blame the yellow shirts as well, because when they went from weeks of friendly, picnic style protest to seizing airports and did not get properly castigated, they created for the first time an atmosphere in which illegal acts by mobs might be socially condoned.

Tomorrow promises to be a big day.  There will be a rally for the democrat party in front of Central World, the formerly torched shopping mall.  Pheu Thai have told the red shirts to avoid the area, meaning that should there be a disturbance of any kind, they can plausibly deny that they were behind it and even accuse such disturbers of being "fake red shirts."  Meanwhile, the democrats promise to reveal some Dark Truth which would once and for all turn the mood of the electorate there way.

One wonders what Dark Truth (if any) will be revealed.  I can imagine a few.  For example, I have been told a "dark truth" by someone who heard it from an office in a certain PR firm in New York City which, if (a) it were true and (b) people believed it, actually would completely alter the dynamic of this election.  I wonder if it's the one they'll reveal.  Nah ...

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