Thailand's Winter, the Struggle for Democracy and Hope
"Winter" in Bangkok, the cooling breeze and scattered lazy clouds, today feels like 26C. My friend, a Thai Muslim who migrated from Yala province, works on the sidewalk near Sathorn Road. Malik has been living in Bangkok for the past four years, and now in this district as a street food vendor.
Malik prepares the marinated chicken meat, while skillfully fries some in his mobile cart. We met a few months ago, how I remember the initial distrust when we first spoke of Thai politics. Heated arguments, however led to a firm respect, I do admire his peserverance.
Malik is not a supporter of Yingluck Shinawatra, in fact he finds her superficial to say the least. Not that he knows the prime minister on a personal note, it's just that he feels the lack of progress for his village and his community in Yala. Almost daily carnage, the rising body count, and the redundancy of politicians in the violent ThaiSouth has produced a generation of young, sturdy, anxious southern Thais.
These days, we find common ground in our discussions, though I sorely miss our debates. With his heavy accent, Jawi (similar to the Malaysian language) explodes from his mouth. Explosive oaths, curses that leave me deeply amused at times. No, he's not cursing Yingluck. His anger is directed at the messiah of the Bangkok middle class, the champion of industrialists and a centerfold for ultra nationalists. Lord Suthep.
Not a day goes by without Malik sending me messages or mouthing barbs of insults. All about Suthep. Suthep this, and Suthep that. The arch foe, at this point of time, of not only Yingluck but also to people like Malik, it seems.
I remember tweeting once about what would happen to Thailand if there was no election, that the upcoming Feb 2 polls were cancelled and Suthep's ambition became a reality. What would happen if fascism and institutionalised caste system dominated the land. Grinning, I asked Malik in halting Jawi for his thoughts.
He said "Then Thailand won't be the land of the free". He paused and glared at me, "Why ask this question huh?"
"I'm curious. You know me. I'm a Malaysian, and naturally inquisitive." I replied. Malik laughed at the mention of the word "Malaysian" ~ he has had several encounters with Malaysians a decade ago, mostly with poor manners and arrogance to boot.
"You should know, characters like Suthep, they just want power for themselves." he said. "Don't believe that my kind (Thai Muslims) are supporting him."
He goes on a rant, and there I thought I was popularly known for my abusive uncivilised language. He explained to me that life in Thailand would drastically change for the worse without democracy. Malik felt that Thais would then lose their culture, their traditions, along with all the complexities and identity. With no democracy, with no system of participation, religion and fascism would have been used by fundamentalists to exercise control over those without the wealth, and the lowborn.
We spoke of how the ThaiSouth communities would react to the absence of elections. Malik felt election, based on the 2011 polls, in the three southern provinces (Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala) failed to deliver immediate progress, namely on the peace building between the government and the militant group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). However the 2011 election gave hope to him and his family. My best guess was that he grew tired of southern political dynasties among the MPs from the Democrat Party who boast about their "connections" or their privileged "ancestry" in the south. Same old faces, no change.
One doesn't have to be a local to comment on Thailand. I told Malik that I'm not fond of institutions, however I respect and believe in the rights of people to be a part of crafting their future. In this aspect, self determination via free and fair polls. A far cry from what Suthep and his 'horde' of feudalistic design demand. Their propaganda of "reforms" before election is merely an excuse for the lot to continue their intimidation exercise. "Reform what!" barked Malik. "They don't want us to have equal sized rice bowls. They want a bigger bowl."
Ah yes, this delicate matter of inequality entrenched in the social pyramid, laced with prejudice of urban bourgeoisie dreams of lording over the masses, the poor, the marginalized and... the "uneducated" Thais.
Would Thailand survive if general elections were indefinitely postponed? No. The masses, those living and working outside of high-society comfort zones, would suffer. Beggarism would replace choices, and future generations would be engulfed in conformity. In such a scenario, one would see the realisation of the 1% dominating the 99%. Civilised barbarism, corporate ruthlessness and a petrified realm filled with uneducated, nodding slaves.
"Hope" ~ that word still rings in my mind. I agree with Malik, elections offer hope, when there is active participation of the masses. In all my experiences as a relief worker, hope coupled with determination, will change the present. Malik, his family, his community, and myself, definitely don't seek a continual 'winter' over the masses. They, me, you, we want the sunlight, to bask in the warmth, to see and build our future in freedom.