The government is coming under increasing criticism from its conservative elite supporters for its failure to contain the outbreak of a new virus in Thailand.
Reports are coming in almost daily of fresh outbreaks of DEMVID-32, a highly contagious disease that is potentially fatal for dictatorship and authoritarianism. New cases of DEMVID-32 (the name is derived from ‘Democracy Virus Disease 32’ – 1932 being the date when democracy was first identified in Thailand) are being reported all over the country, especially in educational institutions.
The conservative establishment, which has long dominated the political and economic life of the country, are concerned that if the disease erupts into a full-scale epidemic, it could lead to a national catastrophe, at least as far as their interests are concerned. They foresee the virus spreading into all sectors of society, leading to freedom of speech and other dangerous human rights excesses and ultimately toppling the current structure of oppression, censorship and mendacity on which the ruling class depends.
Some commentators blame the government itself for the current situation, arguing that the dissolution of the Future Forward Party, engineered with the cooperation of the handpicked Election Commission and Constitutional Court, became a so-called ‘super-spreader’ event. This provoked students into meeting in large numbers, unleashing a surge of infections into a social system where the government is ill prepared to protect itself.
Government planners have called for urgent measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Some believe that closing down educational institutions is a necessary containment strategy, since it seems that these have become ‘reservoirs’ for the virus, from which other sectors of society are at risk of infection.
The current politico-military leadership, however, is reluctant to take this step. They argue that for years, the Thai education system has been one of the major means of protection against alien ideas such as democracy and the rule of law.
‘Thai schools have been indoctrinating or inoculating young people against pernicious ideas such as equality and justice for many years and, with a few exceptions, they have done an excellent job in ensuring a cowed and submissive population that we can exploit at will,’ said one official claiming inside knowledge of thinking inside Government House. ‘We think there is still a possibility that with more rote learning and petty regulations about hair and dress, the schools can still save the country from democracy.’
The military minds at the centre of government power are more receptive to external controls. Convinced that democracy and human rights are alien concepts and incompatible to the true Thai mind, they are more in favour of border controls and quarantining suspicious individuals inside the country.
Since a fool proof test for DEMVID-32 infection is still unavailable, it is not clear how the immigration authorities will be able to screen out carriers among the millions who arrive in the country each year. It is thought that mass discrimination may be the most effective method, with visitors from countries with no known democratic leanings, like China and North Korea, being allowed in, while those from heavily infected societies, such as the Scandinavian countries, being banned.
The international diplomatic implications of this are currently being studied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who will then have to figure out how to break the news gently to the military minds in charge.
In line with government thinking that democracy is an invasive condition where Thais are contaminated by contact with filthy foreigners, the Immigration Bureau will start requiring all foreigners to prove that they are DEMVID-32 free.
‘Immigration will be good at this, given their instinctive xenophobia,’ said one high-ranking official. ‘You won’t believe what a mountain of paperwork they will start demanding.’
Exactly how foreigners can prove they are free of the virus is not yet clear but it likely to involve personal endorsements from members of the armed forces or police (websites have already appeared offering these for a fee) and a sworn affidavit that they do not read foreign newspapers, watch foreign news channels or access known infectious websites such as Prachatai. Long-term residents will have to expose their browsing history to Immigration officials.
Rather than shying away from harsh countermeasures to control DEMVID-32, the government is in fact having to suppress some of the more radical proposals.
For example, Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna, whose family runs a private hospital, claims that person infected by DEMVID-32 can be easily detected by suitably qualified persons, making quarantine and other forms of incarceration a simple bureaucratic procedure. Dr Rienthong alleges that his team of highly trained arch-monarchists can spot a DEMVID-32 carrier merely by looking at a person’s appearance, clothing and general demeanour, though for ideological reasons, he will not allow infected persons to seek treatment at his hospital.
More contentious is a proposal by the army commander-in-chief who is reportedly preparing ‘Infection Operations’ or IO squads to patrol areas where DEMVID-32 is thought to be rife and arbitrarily execute anyone suspected of being infected. In cases where infection does not seem to have occurred yet, 3 fingers of each hand will be surgically removed as a prophylaxis.
To many outside observers, however, the government response seems doomed to failure, relying as it does on bigotry, paranoia and prejudice. Any hope that the situation will be dealt with by methods based on scientific knowledge and data has long disappeared.