Bangkok: The Power of Choice and Change for Thai Muslims
We reached our destination, a house that mercifully provided shade at the front porch and the host prepared cool drinks for his friends and this worn-out guest. Cross-legged and feeling lethargic, I offered my Salaam - the traditional Islamic greeting - a smile to my host, while my fingers wrapped around the tall glass of iced coffee and the other preparing to light another kretek.
Pleasantries exchange, polite nods and within moments, we were speaking about the approaching Bangkok governor election. Posters disturbed my host, sort of a paranoia of some sort. He described to me how these posters flapped like the wings of vultures circling their prey; the swishing of the placard material. He saw his city continuing its cycle of redundancy, and old promises would again strengthen the unequal lifestyle that has been growing since 2004.
The city was not his home well at least not the home that he and many of his relatives expected to return to, from their occasional trips from the other provinces. In a huff, he waved his hands in the air, animatedly, and goes on and on about what he felt the new governor should do when the old one loses the election. A comical man yet one who according to my friends have the respect of his neighbors and associates. Despite his abnormal views of election posters, he's banking his support on one man, the one who's electoral number 9 has been seen as a manifestation of good fortunes, or what my other Muslim friend classified as "blessings" - which invoked courteous nods from me.
Sensing my skepticism, he continued sharing his views of the failed promises of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), a city hall with vast power in the metropolis. The last bastion for the opposition, the Democrat Party. Not unfamiliar with the deep south, I reminded him that the Democrats are still in control of political affairs in the ThaiSouth, at least in name. He nodded and smile. I wasn't in the mood for anyone to assume that I was an ignorant traveler; yet courtesy reminded me that I was merely a guest to his home.
Nevertheless we spoke for hours, enjoying the uninterrupted refreshments of sweet Thai snacks and that slightly-bitter taste of the coffee, generously served in southern Thai-style.
Over the next couple of weeks, I visited his dawah outreach and observing their outreach to the local Muslim settlements. Quite an impressive community service even though it was faith-based. Yet as an outreach worker, I understand the importance of social work, particularly for the Muslim-minority in Bangkok. Many still live in slums, sometimes three families squeezed in a wooden house that only has two bedrooms and one lavatory. I also got to observe the campaigning of a couple of governor candidates, yet the more I look at it, the more I see that Bangkok is at the brink of metamorphosis.
Thai Muslim residents who are eligible to vote are eager to see the change, despite the boasts of some minor Muslim politicians. They seek to abandon the phlegmatic governance and carve the inevitable progress, with their selection of a widely popular candidate by the name of Pongsapat Pongcharoen.