Monday, June 20, 2011

Colour still defines

One Man's Meat

Yellow-hearted Bangkokians have turned red with opinion polls predicting Yingluck, Thaksin’s gorgeous younger sister, will beat the handsome Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat party.

ON Saturday morning, rushing for my meeting with contacts in Bangkok, I put on a red shirt. Then I had second thoughts.

In Thailand’s colour-coded and divided politics, it might be politically incorrect to wear red.

I took it off and put on a grey T-shirt instead.

It is election time in the country where Red means you are pro-Thaksin Shinawatra (former Thai prime minister), and yellow shows that you are anti-Thaksin.

If the opinion polls are to be trusted, Pheu Thai, the party led by the gorgeous Yingluck, Thaksin’s younger sister, will thump the handsome Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat party in the Thai capital on July 3.

It seems that most yellow-hearted Bangkokians (who in 2009 voted for a Democrat as governor of Bangkok) have turned red.

“Bangkok’s middle class who voted for Democrats have had a change of heart,” said Worapol Promigabutr, a sociologist at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.

“They thought the coup (which ousted Thaksin) in 2006 would make the country better. But now they realise the situation has not changed and in fact had become worse,” he said.

At a fast food joint in Tesco Lotus hypermart at the Bangkok suburb of Chaengwattana, I asked Worapol about a political killing on Khao San Road, Bangkok’s backpacker Mecca.

I had a personal interest in political violence in the city of Angels (in Thai, Krung Thep) as friends have asked me whether it was safe to visit Bangkok during the Thai polls.

I assured Malaysians that it was safe, Bangkok Dangerous (the title of a Nicholas Cage movie shot in Bangkok during the 2006 coup), notwithstanding.

The only thing they should worry about was getting conned into visiting a “tiger show” in Patpong.

On Thursday, Suban Jiraphanwanich, an influential politician from the province of Lop Buri (about 130km from Bangkok), was shot dead in – to quote the Bangkok police chief – “a well-planned attack by a hit team of possibly career assassins”.

Suban’s wife and an aide were also injured during the incident in which five rounds were fired.

“Don’t worry,” assured Worapol, who had been detained by the police for seven days for alleged involvement with Red Shirt activities during last year’s bloody protest.

“Political killing is not extraordinary during a Thai election,” he said.

Worapol also gave me the lowdown on the Thai polls – it is Pheu Thai/Red Shirts vs the rest of Thailand.

After the sociologist explained to me why the oligarchy could not kill Thaksin politically, a man at the next table eating fried chicken with his daughter interrupted our discussion.

“Are you saying that Thaksin also helped the poor when he was prime minister?” asked Thanee, a 51-year-old civil engineer, in a typically polite Thai manner.

Surprise, surprise. I thought in English-deficient Thailand, someone was eavesdropping on our conversation in English.

“I voted for Thai Rak Thai (Thaksin’s party banned since 2006).

“I have read from both sides – mainstream media and alternative media.

“And now I don’t support Thaksin,” continued the civil engineer, adding that he saw what Thaksin said on the Internet.

“What did Thaksin say?” Worapol ventured.

“I can’t say. But I know what I read. I will go to jail if I say what Thaksin said,” said Thanee.

“Are you saying that Thaksin is not loyal to the King?” asked the academician, who is a royalist.

“Although it (a Time magazine issue which carried the interview with Thaksin) was banned in Thai-land, my daughter printed it from the Internet,” said the civil engineer.

The argument whether Thaksin allegedly committed lese majeste (a French phrase for “insulting the monarchy”) became too hot that I was a bit concerned it would turn physical.

In politically divided Thailand it is still not “safe” to wear your political belief on your sleeve in public.