I trust you were as shocked as I was to read the outrageous ‘Gridlock makes losers of us all’ column by Atiya Achakulwisut in last Tuesday’s Bangkok Post. It being April 1, I momentarily suspected it was an April Fool spoof, but it seems I was sadly mistaken.
In a single article she carelessly junked the Post’s carefully crafted paeans to the bravery, statesmanship and personal sacrifice of Suthep Thaugsuban. These puff pieces have for months laboured to overcome his legacy as a corrupt provincial wheeler-dealer with a lightning quick eye for the main chance.
Suddenly Khun Atiya can find nothing nice to say about the antics of the PDRC, questioning even their reason for existence.
What triggered this about-face? Nothing more than the standard middle-class moan of getting stuck in traffic.
Now Khun Atiya does not say explicitly what form of transport she was using when she was ‘trapped’ last week. But since she complains that the MRT and BTS are ‘not available’ to her and provide nowhere to park anyway, I conclude that she was impatiently listening to Jor Sor 100’s stream of bad news in the comfort of her own car. Not for Bangkok Post op-ed writers the joys of riding the bus, air-con or otherwise. And cycling? In this heat?
The previous morning she had been late to work as a result of the jams caused by a PRDC decision to keep closed the Thai-Japanese and Thai-Belgian bridges throughout the morning. They close them off during the night for fear that dastardly anti- PRDC forces will use them as launch sites to fire grenades, bullets and lord knows what else at the peaceful, non-violent protest slum currently occupying Lumpini Park. But, knowing that anti- PRDC forces, like vampires, cannot operate by daylight, they graciously open the bridges at dawn. But not last Monday.
Khun Atiya is quite right to note that the fragility of Bangkok’s traffic systems can ill withstand such an unexpected blockage to a major artery and the traffic equivalent of a heart attack duly ensued.
This provoked her into asking, somewhat late in the day, what empowers these protestors to disrupt her morning commute?
She might earlier have asked what empowers them with impunity to block roads and intersections for weeks on end, prevent access to government and commercial premises, forcibly enter government offices and damage property, force state officials to stop working, call on the armed forces to rebel against the state, assault journalists, cause noise pollution at levels detrimental to health, exempt themselves from expressway tolls (and ban other users when they’re using them), ignore court warrants, physically stop candidates from registering and voters from voting and verbally abusing any who manage to exercise their duty to vote, issue daily threats and warnings couched in violent, sexist and slanderous language, stop and search ordinary citizens trying to access public transport, engage in kidnapping and illegal detention … the list goes on and on.
But hey, all that pales into insignificance when compared with the crime of making the motorized middle class late in delivering munchkin to their specially selected school.
What Khun Atiya seems to have forgotten in the summer heat is that however much one may be inconvenienced by these actions, they are made by Good People and therefore must be for a Good Reason.
It is not for us mere thinking mortals to question their morals or motives. They are doing all this (and let no one forget the self-sacrifice involved in 3 free meals a day and the right to throw your weight about) for the Good of the Nation. We will all benefit when the Final Victory is theirs. (That’s the final Final Victory, of course, not any of the dozen or so not-quite-final Final Victories that have already lapsed.)
We are being asked to entrust our future to a reform process that will be decided by, among others, those newly trained ‘polite’ guards who control access to a public park. Cowboy hats and bandannas, cheap shades, ill-matched camouflage fatigues, enough amulets dangling round their necks to ensure they will drown if ever they end up in the lake, and a pot-bellied swagger – you should be able to spot these guardians of the nation’s future easily enough (though you are advised not to engage them in human language; they are not well blessed that way).
And if you want to know what kind of nation these Good People will create for us, just look at what they’ve done with Lumpini Park.
For a kick-off, despite the acres of space inside, they insist on plonking their impromptu market of patriotically tawdry tat outside the gates, impeding access to the emergency ward of Chulalongkorn Hospital.
Next, they appropriate to themselves the right to rummage around in your hand luggage without any hint of a court warrant or due cause and to threaten violence if you object.
Then they resolutely ignore just about every regulation posted on the park gates. Now camping overnight might be excused as part of the protest. But they also drive trucks, cars and motorcycles around, at speeds that seem reckless to me but must be patriotically justified, even as the much diminished morning and evening jogging contingent is trying to exercise in safety. And they make incessant loud noises, smoke everywhere and (from the stench) urinate willy-nilly, as one might put it.
And, of course they make the traffic worse.
Welcome to the New Reformed Thailand.
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).