Saturday, October 11, 2008

‘Clack’, the handy weapon

Thai Takes

CLACK. Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack.

The clacking is from Thailand’s latest and hottest political “weapon” - multi-coloured plastic hand clappers (mue tob) that cost 25 baht (RM2.50) each.

And the fury of the mue tob is heard 24/7 at Bangkok’s Government House (the seat of the Thai government) which the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has illegally occupied since Aug 26.

Ok pai Somchai (Thai for ‘get out Somchai [Wongsawat, Thailand’s prime minister]’),” a PAD leader shouts on the stage which faces the maligned front lawn of Government House, and automatically hundreds of yellow-clad supporters clack their clappers in unison.

The mue tob has become the symbol of dissent against Thaksin Shinawatra (the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup) and the People Power Party (PPP, the pro-Thaksin party which won the Dec 23, 2007 election).

The made-in-China clappers, according to PAD urban legend, were excess stock from the Beijing Olympics.

It has become trendy as it eases the strain on the hands and vocal chords of PAD protesters, who clap and cheer/jeer incessantly at Government House.

“It has become a handy yet powerful weapon, with a size that makes it easy to carry around, ready for use anytime, anywhere,” PAD coordinator Suriyasai Takasila told the Daily Xpress, an English-language tabloid.

At about 10am in Bangkok on Sept 29, the newly-elected prime minister found out how “handy” the mue tob was for anti-government supporters.

While Somchai was giving a speech at his alma mater Thammasat University, two alumni whipped out their clappers, clacked them, shouted “Return Thammasat’s dignity to us”, and exited abruptly.

The prime minister, The Nation newspaper reported, “apparently turned pale and ended his speech, saying he might have talked too much about his personal life”.

About 100 minutes later, in front of Bangkok’s Siam Paragon shopping mall, two middle-class women clacked their mue tob while shouting “Somchai, betrayer, get out”.

Inside the mall, five other women armed with clappers heckled the premier who was campaigning for a PPP Bangkok governor candidate.

Later, Somchai, who is Thaksin’s brother-in-law, told journalists that he was not angry with the PAD hecklers, but he would like Thais to be more rational.

Since then it has become a trend for PAD supporters to “clack” at the premier whenever he made a public appearance.

The clacking is also heard at non-PAD events.

At a campaign rally for the (recently-concluded) Bangkok governor race, Democrat Party supporters used the political “weapon” of the PAD to cheer for Apirak Kosayodhin (the Democrat candidate who was re-elected governor).

And Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva’s adoring fans, who are also PAD supporters, have asked him to autograph their clappers.

It is not surprising to political pundits that some of the supporters of the Democrat Party (Thailand’s sole opposition in parliament) are PAD protesters.

They believe some Democrat politicians are working hand-in-hand with PAD leaders to bring down the PPP-led coalition government so the party can be in power.

The mue tob is not only used against the PPP-led coalition government but also against those who dare go against the PAD.

A handful of anti-government protesters clacked furiously at anti-riot police in front of the Border Patrol headquarters when PAD co-leader Chamlong Srimuang was detained on Oct 5.

The PAD protesters were furious that Chamlong - who left the human shield protecting him at Government House to vote in the Bangkok race - was arrested on three serious charges, including treason.

The PAD supporters also brought out their clappers when they besieged parliament the following night.

But the clappers were no match for tear gas.

That was what the PAD supporters found out when the police fired tear gas to break their blockade of parliament on Tuesday.

“Why do they use tear gas to disperse us? We didn’t have any weapons to fight them. We have only hand clappers,” Ubonwan Boonyoprapas, a 47-year-old woman, told The Nation.

Probably the tear gas temporarily blinded Ubonwan, as some PAD protesters were armed with iron bars, slingshots, pistols and homemade explosives known as ping-pong bombs.

Not to be out clapped by the PAD, supporters of the PPP plan to produce their own clappers - shaped like the sign language for “I Love You.”

If that happens, the War of the Multi-coloured Plastic Clappers could erupt in Bangkok.

(Published in The Star on October 11, 2008. Photograph courtesy of The Nation)