January, February, and March (and probably June) 2014
Tomatoes & Democracy - April 2014
Songkran--the Thai calendar's official new year celebration--is just around the corner. It's a time for many Thais to let off steam by drenching each other with water, getting (and staying) really drunk, and slaughtering each other on the kingdom's highways.
There is an anticipation (or a disappointment, depending on how you look at it....OK, it's practically a boiling point) in the air that Thailand's immediate political problems could soon be resolved. The future is in the hands of the Constitutional Court, the National Counter Corruption Commission, and the Elections Commission, which puts me at ease since Thai bureaucrats always have things under control, in triplicate, riddled with rubber stamps.
It is the long-term implications of what happens next that worries most of us.
The final nail in Yingluck's political coffin may not be corruption-riddled rice pledging scheme, the suspicious 20 trillion baht infrastructure project loans, or her alleged use of public funds for campaign trips, but a leadership choice she made in September 2011. She moved then-National Security Chief Thawil Pliensri to a do-nothing "advisory" position in order to make way for a family member to take his job. Khun Thawil disliked having noting to do, so he successfully sued the caretaker government, which was forced to return him to his job last March. Yingluck apparently violated the constitution, which could result in her ouster.
Even red shirt leaders seem to be resigned to the fact that Yingluck will be removed from her office, disallowed from participating in politics for five years, and her party dissolved. The question is whether all of this will happen before or after we all get drunk and stay wet. The government was dissolved in November and the authors of Thailand's constitution did not foresee a caretaker government being thrown out of power, leaving no possible next step. Where do we go from here?
About 100,000 red shirts camped on the edge of Bangkok over the weekend, just one week after PDRC's big weekend of snarled traffic. The reds announced another gathering after Songkran. Thankfully, they stayed where they were, about 20km away from the opposition in Lumpini Park. Their new leader has been making rather brash public comments about "going to war," and "fighting to defend democracy." They are also hot under the collar for PDRC leader Suthep's alleged remarks that he plans to seize power upon the demise of the current government. (He has denied that, of course.)
New red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, has challenged PDRC Secretary-General Suthep to the kind of macho throwing of a gauntlet that has men dropping their drawers to make a comparison. Both groups plan major rallies on the day the various legal entities decide the fate of the beleaguered caretaker government. Jattuporn threw down his gauntlet, saying 'Let the people decide. I bet we can come up with more people than you can.' That is precisely what worries the public, according to a Suan Dusit Poll conducted during the first week of April, which found that finding that most Thais think that civil war is a possibility.
Without any thought to my personal safety, I went to the supermarket on Saturday, where I bought a high-powered water gun and a couple of bottles of Sangsom (Thai "whiskey") to celebrate Songkran properly. I'm ready for whatever comes next.
Mickey Rooney died on Monday, aged 93. I would not want to live that long. What a remarkable life he lead. Just last week I watched the 1935 film Midsummer Night's Dream, in which he played a Puck (at 14 years of age), along with Olivia de Havilland (in her film debut), Dick Powell, James Cagney, Joe E. Brown and Victory Jory in Shakespeare set to Mendelssohn's music. It is one of a few films (including Lost Horizon, The Philadelphia, Roman Holiday, Seven Years in Tibet and anything Tim Burton directed) that I can watch over and over and over. It was way ahead of its time, very entertaining, and well worth adding to your collection (Amazon has DVDs). During WW2 Mickey played drums in the same band in which my father played sax. I have some great photos. What a life. Sadly, nobody has claimed his body.
Happy New Year. Songkran is behind us and we are back to work after a week-long holiday. I went to visit friends who live near a small town called Phukhiao in Isaan's Chayaphum province. It is a very lovely part of Thailand, with scenic mountains in the distance, fresh air, and fresh guys. My friends John and Rut live on about an acre of land with three houses (I had one to myself), lily ponds, and the local community FM station. My house had a lovely terrace overlooking the largest pond. I enjoyed working outdoors in the morning and watching the DJs come out shirtless to fish in the afternoon. I managed to stay completely dry until the final day. We went to see the local "flower parade," which most communities have on the last day of the Songkran festival. I stepped out of the car to take photos and was soon faced with either me or my Nikon getting doused, so I took a bucket down the back of my shirt. We saw a lot of water-throwing in the town and along all of the roads in the area. Songkran is much more playful in the countryside than in Bangkok, where it takes on a very vicious tone.
The holiday over, the dogs are barking at each other again. The Election Commission held a meeting with all the registered political parties last Tuesday and, following the Constitution, announced that elections were possible on either 20 or 27 July. Later, there was talk about putting an election off until September. Suthep and the PDRC may seek to block another election until "reforms have been completed." I stand by my prediction of 26 March that there will be elections later rather than sooner.
Over Songkran fugitive former PM Thaksin said in a speech in Beijing that he is no longer opposed to his family leaving politics, so long as the other side remembers that justice needs to be preserved. Many here could not agree more, and invite him to return to Thailand to serve a two-year prison sentence for terrorism and corruption, and appear before the International Court to answer for the thousands of Thais murdered in extra-judicial killings during his term in office. Little Sister has since announced that she does not mind stepping down if that is what the people want. The National Counter Corruption Commission, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Elections Commission will probably have their say before the people do.
Meanwhile, Suthep and Yingluck have still not agreed to talk to each other face to face. Last weekend the Red Shirts gave basic training for hand-to-hand combat to "thousands" of volunteers who want to "protect democracy." There are those who think that a single bullet could end all of this madness. I used to be one who believed that ending the life of one egotistical, vengeful, childish former politician living abroad could help repair the things wrong with Thailand. I now see that the strong opinions of what has become two opposing sides are now intractably embedded in Thai society . Reforming the "system" here is long overdue, and maybe there should be no election until corruption and the way things are done here are changed significantly.
Thais have been waiting and hoping for someone to step forth from the shadows to facilitate reconciliation and put the nation on the path to healing, rather than the path towards civil war. An unlikely figure has emerged, who is willing to mediate and begin the dialogue between sides that will help end Thailand's social and political stalemate.
Ahbisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister and leader of the Democrat Party has stepped forth. He has PDRC leader Suthep's ear (since Suthep was his Deputy PM), has already met with high-ranking police and military leaders, and has publicly offered to meet with Prime Minister Yingluck. (She's mum about such a meeting so far.) He has had a lot to say about how reconciliation and reform could be accomplished and reminds all of those involved that nobody will get 100% of what they want.
Since I have spent a lot time at the controls of any number of kinds of airplanes (isn't that a frightening thought?), some of which I had absolutely no business (or license, for that matter) flying at all, I have frequently been asked what I think about the disappearance of MS370. Personally, I believe that the current search effort in the South Indian Ocean is part of a massive international conspiracy to cover up something unspeakably sinister, including the Malaysian government's complete incompetence. Until someone drags a piece of a 777 out of the water, I don't believe what the Malaysian, Australian, and US governments, Anderson Cooper, or Richard Quest are pounding into the heads of the public.
Where do I think the plane went? After making a u-turn and slipping through the Straits of Malacca, thus avoiding crossing Sumatra, it continued west, toward the Seychelles, where it turned north by north-west along the coast of a big country with radar so antiquated that it is often not even turned on. They may have even piggy-backed (flew close behind and at a different altitude) another commercial flight to completely avoid being noticed. When they made landfall, where did they go? Just look at a map.May 2014