V for 'Very, very vain'
BANGKOK: -- Seriously? If a government "by the people and for the people" can't tolerate netizens using a well-known movie-based mask as their avatar, we should start implementing the long-delayed idea of including "front-row Thai politics" in Thailand's tourism promotion. But I have read the news three times and each time it unequivocally quoted Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit as saying that he and party legal experts want to do something about the Guy Fawkes mask phenomenon.
You keep wondering how better it can get. "V for Vendetta" looks like a very leftist film to me, but in Thailand the ones using the V mask are those accused of being "ultra-rightists", while those offended by the mask are supposed to be wearing it. Well, the line between political "left" and political "right" nowadays is very thin indeed.
Or there is simply no line, and all that has happened is a power play disguised as an ideological war. Perhaps we should stop using the term political "divide" and recategorise everything. There shouldn't be left or right - just real victims, fake victims, dumb propaganda, romanticised propaganda, and so on.
People invoke "democracy" only when it suits them. It happens everywhere, but here in Thailand we have taken the comedy to unrivalled heights. When Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was ridiculed, democracy lovers took exception and went after the offenders. When antigovernment elements were active, they were deemed worthless nuisances or potential threats to political or national stability.
In politics, everyone can end up being his own worst enemy. Even so, I still can't buy reports that Thaksin Shinawatra has posted a Facebook comment lambasting Pheu Thai's online gatekeepers for allowing the V-mask "garbage" to proliferate on their site. I think it's an impersonator. Instead of offering Bt10 million to those who can reveal the truth behind the CentralWorld arson attack, Thaksin should have offered the money to anyone who can expose who was behind the "garbage" post.
The garbage comment has been removed, but damaged has been done. Thaksin has been called many things but he's no fool. And only a fool would call the V-mask postings "garbage". We don't know if he has watched "V for Vendetta", but as a man who claims to read a lot, Thaksin must certainly know that "V" is a specialised provocateur. Surely a smart "champion of democracy" like Thaksin won't easily fall into the trap.
A pro-government newspaper has asked the Yingluck administration to keep its head down and go on working. That is the only thing a government in a democracy can do, because anger, fear and paranoia are supposed to dictate another kind of government. A democratically-elected ruler cannot be obsessed with hackers or cartoonists unless they, say, doctor a prime minister's speech to make it seem that he or she ordered people killed.
"Freedom of expression" is a major issue in Thailand, but here we shun debating its true meaning or values and instead choose to focus on calling each other a hypocrite. If you are a new student of Thai politics, and confused about who is beyond criticism, who is not and why, you are thinking too much. Democracy should be as simple as having the right to question, scold or ridicule those who we elect to spend our tax money and then borrow more from us.
That is not only democratic, but also logical. If a man is responsible for spending your money to make your life better, you are entitled to make fun of that man and ask him to show accountability. It's illogical for the man to take your money, spend it and have you arrested for being disgruntled about the way he does his job.
So the priorities for the Yingluck administration should be proving that the Bt350-billion anti-flood master plan and the Bt2-trillion mega-projects will be efficient and graft-free, and that the rice price-pledging programme won't spoil farmers or muddy budgetary principles. Anything else can wait, including an amnesty scheme that would only inflame debate on political "injustice", and a reconciliation plan that would only deepen the national divide.
The "masks" are just a gimmick. If the government is hell-bent on cracking down on this kind of political opposition, it will make a further mockery of its own "amnesty" or "reconciliation" talks. How can you pardon "rioters" or "killers", while at the same time considering netizens with fanciful avatars a threat?
Ideology is just a sideshow in the Thai political crisis. I'm not calling on everyone to stop pretending, but there should at least be some consistency in the pretense. This is just a warning that democracy is capable of catching pretenders like nothing else can. To sum it up, if you can't be good, at least be a good actor.
-- The Nation 2013-05-29