The content in this page ("Democracy is more than hero worship and costume dramas" by Pravit Rojanaphruk, The Nation) is not produced by Prachatai staff. Prachatai merely provides a platform, and the opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of Prachatai.

Democracy is more than hero worship and costume dramas

Leaders of both the red- and yellow-shirt movements appear to have succumbed, in their self-absorbed way, to thinking of themselves as out-of-this-world characters - often to comic effect. Some time ago, the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy supremo Sondhi Limthongkul dressed all in white like some holy man, splashed his PAD followers with what appeared to be holy water, like that dispensed by Buddhist monks. That was at the height of the PAD's seizure of Government House.

And today, the red-shirts' leading trio don what appear to be pseudo late-Ayutthaya-period battle gowns, appearing on stage with big war drums behind them as they prepare for their political battle. The dress would awe even those used to watching Kabuki performances at Tokyo's Kabukiza Theatre. It appears as the cover photo of the current edition of Truth Today news magazine (January 26 to 28), taken from a recent red-shirt rally stage.

Photo by JPLSOFT at Prachatai webboard

On the back page of the same magazine, red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikua fancies himself as a junior boxer on the cover of a book penned by himself. He wears a white T-shirt with red boxing gloves, ready for a fight- as the book title suggests - against opponents beyond his weight category

Are these people so absorbed in their imagined roles that they have become self-deluded, or are they just acting their parts to spice up their respective constituencies?

Self-absorbed or not, these leaders are adored by their supporters and followers. They are literally mobbed by their political fans as if they were superstars. For sure, Thaksin Shinwatra, who fancied himself as the politician of the poor, and Abhisit Vejjajiva, viewed as the well-bred leader of the educated, do have their followers, though their dress sense may not be as exciting.

Supporters of these leaders place much hope in them for political salvation. Come heaven or hell, they will stick with them - like audiences glued to a soap opera because they have strongly identified with characters in the story.

Given that both red- and yellow-shirt leaders are turning their political struggle into a reality show, it would be no exaggeration that many followers are die-hard fans of these political reality-shows. Fans get a chance to get close to their stars, who tell them what to do through their media. They are constantly reminded they are on the right side and that "victory is near".

Whether these leaders are increasingly self-deluded or not, or already dwelling in a political fantasy land, not much can be done about them. The fans and followers who adore them should wake up and get real if they are serious about democratic progress; excessive political adoration and dependency cannot bring about democracy. If anything, such attitudes will only deepen dependence on heroes. Others may seek to adore coup leaders in green uniforms as their political saviours, as in 2006, and "feared" again on Monday night when 22 armoured vehicles entered Bangkok unannounced.

There's little place for little people in the politics of these mega reality-shows with their big stars consumed by costumed fantasies. Lazy politics turn citizens into passive followers waiting for their leaders to tell them what to do next. If only democratisation could be so simple.