The fear of many Thais is that the country will end up like the Philippines – so laid back that nothing gets done, so corrupt that everyone stops trying, so mismanaged that there is misery for many just around the corner.
While things may not have reached the depths of Marcos era chaos, there are worry signs. Why? There seems now no way out of the circumstances the country finds itself in:
- The protests are led by a former deputy prime minister facing murder charges over his part in 2010 when there was the bloody suppression of just the sort of protest movement he leads;
- The Government, whose performance has been below par on the economy and whose legitimacy as an elected majority is doubted because of the financial supplements offered to those who voted for them, is paralysed;
- The King who usually provided the circuit breaker in Thai politics is too ill to take part;
- The military are shy about participating because of the very negative reaction they got in 2010 for their bloody intervention then;
- The police are not trusted and are believed by many to be still loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra who was once a leader among them.
The slide into chaos is gentle and few would venture to suggest what might unfold when leadership is absent and the forces at work are so weak, contradictory and ineffective.
Take this week: a State of Emergency was declared but absolutely nothing has changed – the demonstrators are still clogging up the city by holding rallies at intersections where it appears the same crowd processes from one point to another to listen to speeches and applaud musical performer. There is hardly a police officer to be seen.
And now, with the country a week off an election which the Government says it is legally bound to hold within 60 days of the dissolution of Parliament, the country’s Constitutional Court declared there’s nothing to prevent a delay in the holding of the election.
Something has got to give. But it would be a brave person who could say with confidence what will. After two weeks, it’s hard to see the Bangkok protestors who are fed up with the Shinawatra family, quietly going home. Being fed up, anger is not resolved by meekly agreeing to disband.
There is a reported 35,000 people who have come from the south (the Opposition’s stronghold) and are financially supported by those managing the protests. Why would they go home if they are in paid employment?
The Shinawatra supporters will concede that Thaksin and his sister aren’t angels but the alternative is a collapse back into a pre-democratic form of government by a Council of the good and the great. Who appoints them? For how long? With what mandate delivered by whom?
And then there’s the military – the army and the police. Who’s giving them their riding instructions and how long will they follow them?
Mention of a racing metaphor – “riding instructions” which are given to a jockey by the trainer – suggests to me the appropriate way to look at what’s happening in Bangkok.
As an adolescent and keenly interested in horse racing, I used to listen to a discussion between various tipsters broadcast every Saturday morning. Sometimes, when the glorious uncertainty of picking a winner led to complete confusion among the panel discussing prospects, the panel moderator, Bert Bryant would sum up and conclude with a single sentence: “And the answer is….a pineapple!”
In Thailand, the answer is…..an orchid!