Saturday, April 12, 2008

Troubling predictions


LAST week, famous Thai soothsayer Varin Buaviratlert predicted that if the 2007 Constitution was amended, there would be bloodshed in Thailand next month. Immediately, the pro-constitution amendment faction struck back.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej lashed out at Varin who reportedly forecasted that Samak’s 10-week-old government would collapse in the coming months, resulting in political chaos and bloodshed which would see new army chief General Anupong Paojinda becoming the next premier.

“This fortune teller has no shame about making a wrong prediction and I wonder what he is doing to the country by invoking my name and that of the army chief to insinuate another coup,” lambasted Samak on Sunday during his weekly TV show.

The combative prime minister continued: “If you want to be a fortune teller of the coup makers, it’s your business. But why have you made wrong predictions (such as predicting Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva would be prime minister)?”

Also on that Sunday, an influential soothsayer Luck Lekhanethet predicted that if the constitution was NOT amended, there would be bloodshed in August.

Why are there contrasting “bloodshed” predictions by two famous soothsayers?

“The pro amendment and the anti amendment factions are using fortune-tellers (and also academicians, civic groups and the mass media) in their political information warfare,” said Worapol Promigabutr, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.

“The faction behind Varin knows that a majority of the Thais especially those in the rural areas believe in supernatural powers. And what they are doing is using Varin to tell the public that there would be bloodshed if the proposal to amend the constitution was approved,” Worapol explained.

“So that even if the public was pro amendment, they would withdraw from activities supporting the proposal as they feared there would be bloodshed or a coup. The other side is using Luck Lekhanethet to devalue Varin’s prediction.”

On which soothsayer the public believed, the sociologist said Luck Lekhanethet was more popular with the common people than Varin, who gained prominence after claiming he had foreseen General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin leading a successful coup on Sept 19, 2006.

In the 37 degree Celcius days leading to Songkran (Thai New Year) which falls tomorrow, the sizzling debate on the pros and cons of retaining the constitution has raised the country’s political temperature.

What's at stake is the possible shredding of the army-drafted constitution that was approved by a slim majority in a national referendum on Aug 19, last year during six months of military rule.

“It (2007 constitution) is one of the most undemocratic constitutions in Thai history. It is semi dictatorial,” said Worapol.

“For example, elected MPs such as the prime minister can be removed by un-elected senators. If the government fails to amend this constitution it will be constantly threatened by the oligarchic power which appoints these senators.”

A controversial clause in the 2007 constitution insulates the coup makers for staging the 2006 coup whereas the 1997 constitution that it replaced stated that it was illegal to stage a coup.

On Tuesday, the Samak-led People Power Party (PPP) voted to amend almost all of the 2007 constitution, using as a model the 1997 charter that is seen by many as Thailand’s most democratic constitution.

Samak downplayed speculation that the constitutional amendment would result in violence.

“What is written can be rewritten. We amend the law every day and the people who wrote the constitution also said if people did not like it, it could be amended later. Now they object to the amendment,” he said.

On Thursday, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) described PPP’s plan to amend the constitution as a “silent coup.”

And the PAD, which was behind the massive anti-Thaksin Shinwatra rallies before the 2006 coup, warned it would organise street protest against any bid to change the charter for self-interest and to begin a signature campaign against MPs backing such an attempt.

Asked what his prediction on the constitutional amendment was, Worapol said: “the attempt to block the amendment will not succeed as the general public is in favour of changing the constitution.”

He believes the government has enough support in parliament to approve the constitutional amendment.

And the sociologist quipped, “I would like to clarify that my prediction is not based on astrological theory but on sociological theory.”

(Published in The Star on April 12, 2008)