Well it’s a full house here at the Impact Arena for the live televised debate between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Suthep Thaugsuban, head of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. There’s a few minutes to go before that starts so I’ll turn to Khun Somchai here. Khun Somchai, explain to the viewers, what is the background to this debate?
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. Well, as you know, there have been many calls for the two sides to avert a national crisis by having this debate. Until very recently Khun Suthep has rejected all these appeals. The Prime Minister said she would be willing to talk, but nobody really believed her, so that was the equivalent of a refusal.
So how did this debate come about?
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. Well, it’s really because Khun Suthep changed his mind. Now whether this was because he had his arm twisted, as some suggest, or because he genuinely recognizes his patriotic duty, we probably will never know. But when the Election Commission heard this, they started negotiating with both sides to set up the debate.
But, Khun Somchai, why the Election Commission? Surely, they should be organizing elections, not debates.
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. But you have to understand that once an election is called, the government becomes a caretaker. And like the caretaker of an office or a condominium, they can’t do much. They can run day-to-day business but anything important, they need to get the Election Commission’s permission first.
So Khun Yingluck needed their permission to take part in the debate?
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. No. The EC just organized the terms of the debate, the site and format and so on. Khun Yingluck was forced to participate by a decision of the Constitutional Court, er, the Civil Court, or one of the courts, it doesn’t really matter which, they all make the same decisions anyway. They ruled that it was her constitutional duty to take on Khun Suthep, and more or less on his terms.
Thank you, Khun Somchai, but I can see the two contestants entering the arena now, so let us go to our ringside commentator, Khun Wanida. Khun Wanida, perhaps you could describe how the debate will take place?
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. Well the EC has opted for a compromise between the demands of the two sides. There are two chairs, facing each other, under the spotlights with the moderator or referee sitting in a neutral corner of the ring. This is something like what the government side wanted. Now the ring looks just like a boxing ring, which was a PDRC demand and Khun Suthep has put a stool in his corner with seconds and a bucket and all that.
So this is a sort of debate and boxing match?
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. Or wrestling. And that is reflected in the debaters’ clothing. Khun Yingluck has come dressed in a designer two-piece with a string of pearls and matching ear-rings, while Khun Suthep is wearing boxer shorts and a singlet with an ‘Uproot Thaksin’ slogan on the front and if he turns round we will see on the back … Oh. Well, let’s just say there is another slogan on the back about the Prime Minister that we can’t show on television.
Khun Wanida, there seems to be some altercation about the clothing. What’s going on?
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. The Prime Minister’s handlers are unhappy about the whistle around Khun Suthep’s neck. Now they had negotiated a ban on whistles inside the arena, though from the noise you can hear that some have been smuggled in, but Khun Suthep is arguing that the ban does not apply to him.
Why not, Khun Wanida?
Well, no ban ever applies to him. But in a countermove he has objected to the Prime Minister’s ear-rings. He claims these are secret radio transmitters so that she can receive coaching from Dubai. And yes, the EC are forcing Khun Yingluck to remove her ear-rings.
And Khun Suthep’s whistle?
No, it seems he’s being allowed to keep it on the promise that he won’t actually blow it.
So when the debate eventually starts, what are the rules?
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. Well they’ve already drawn lots so Khun Yingluck will answer the first question. Two hesitations, two digressions or a knock-out will decide the winner, judged by a ringside panel of two Supreme Court judges, two Privy Councillors and the Army Commander-in-Chief. And I think we’re about to start though Khun Suthep is refusing to sit down and is on a sort of victory dance round the ring with a large national flag. OK, here’s the first question.
Ms Prime Minister, when you realized that your government was riddled with the biggest corruption ever seen in this country, and that the votes of ignorant, bribed voters give you no legitimate mandate to govern this country, why didn’t you accept the truth and exile yourself, your family and every crook and crony associated with your dictatorial regime?
Well, that’s a fair question, Khun Wanida.
Absolutely, Khun Thawit. And Khun Yingluck seems rather taken aback. Will the judges score this as hesitation? No, she’s starting to speak, but we can’t make out what she’s saying. Her microphone doesn’t seem to be working.
Well all we can hear is the deafening sound of whistles. Khun Suthep is also blowing his whistle, he has his arms in the air, he thinks he’s won. Someone in army fatigues has pulled a towel from a popcorn sack and thrown it into the ring from the Prime Minister’ corner. Yes, the referee has stepped in and raised Suthep’s arm. It seems he’s the winner in a first round knock-out. The judges, can we get a camera shot of them? I can see they’ve opened the champagne and are toasting the victory. So back to the studio, where they will ignore international reaction to this latest step in Thailand’s road to democracy. Good night.
Absolutely, Khun Thawit.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).