Saturday, July 18, 2009

Two fevers grip Thailand

ON Thursday, the Bangkok Post carried an editorial cartoon with the title “Just a fever!!!” A blindfolded handsome Thai man (resembling Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva) was groping the tail end of a black cloak worn by the Grim Reaper. A thought bubble above the man’s head showed a “panda” while the Grim Reaper with H1N1 written on its cloak was thinking “death”.

The cartoon illustrates the two fevers gripping Thailand.

Since the unexpected birth of a panda in Chiang Mai Zoo on May 27, Thais have been infected with panda fever. The Thai newspapers carry daily updates on the baby panda’s progress.

The Thai media also publish daily reports on A (H1N1)-related deaths and infection. Since May 12 when Thailand reported its first infection on its soil, Thais have been worried sick about the disease which has claimed 25 of their countrymen’s lives.

These two news items have somehow managed to push the country’s scorching politics out of the minds of most Thais.

Anyway since the tumultuous April riots (by the Red Shirts or the Thai military depending on which side of the political divide you are on) there has been relative calm in Thai politics.

So it was interesting to read yesterday the opinion piece of Thanong Khanthong, the editor of The Nation.

“I heard that the people in green uniforms (euphemism for the Thai military) are making some unusual movements in preparation for something big,” Thanong wrote in his Friday column called “Overdrive”.

“Many people are also feeling worried about the solar eclipse that will take place on July 22. The solar eclipse is seen by some as a bad omen for countries directly affected by it.

Most people also would like to know whether there will be any serious political incidents between now and July 22, and beyond.”

Thanong consulted his favourite astrologer to find out what to expect from the eclipse. “It’s gonna be pretty bad,” the female astrologer told him. “It will adversely affect the astrological sign of Cancer. We don’t know whether it will hurt Abhisit or Thaksin Shinawatra (the self-exiled former prime minister). Both are Cancer. Either could get hit.”

The editor also told his astrologer that he “smelled” a coup as the military was making unusual movements. “If the military were to stage a coup, they should do it now. The alignment of the stars is on their side,” she said.

The astrologer also warned: “But in the period before or after the eclipse, the water element would create problems. I don’t understand why Abhisit has decided to host the Asean summit in Phuket, surrounded by water. His advisers should have consulted the stars first.”

“Putting astrology aside,” wrote Thanong, “we are indeed reaching another treacherous front.” And he pointed out that the police had identified those involved in the assassination attempt of Sondhi Limthongkul, a core leader of the Yellow Shirt movement.

“But we aren’t sure whether the arrests will go as far as the top level of the plot, or whether there will be a joint operation against those holding power. This is one of the reasons that the military is making these unusual movements,” he added.

Curious to know whether there was any substance to Thanong’s anticipation of political turmoil around July 22, I e-mailed outspoken political commentator M.L. Nattakorn Devakula.

“Absolutely nothing will happen on the 22nd of July, except for the solar eclipse. Thailand’s politics is now at a stalemate after the Red Shirts took the political conflict to the point of brinkmanship during Songkran (the Thai New Year which falls in April),” Nattakorn replied.

“From this point on I am sorry to say we are not likely to see any exciting developments. That means no coup, no parliament dissolution, no civil war. The only thing that is intriguing right now is who tried to kill Sondhi.”

The political commentator added: “This current administration will last for quite a while simply because if a general election was to be held today the Peua Thai Party (a pro-Thaksin party) would win.”

I too have my own prediction. On Wednesday, the Red army will descend to the Thai capital as Liverpool Football Club is playing Thailand at Bangkok’s Rajamangala stadium.

(Published in The Star on July 18, 2009)