Published on November 14, 2007
You can't blame them for trying to do their jobs, although everyone knows the upcoming poll is not about education, healthcare, free-trade agreements, or even political reform. December 23 is meant to settle an old score, pure and simple.
I bet you have already made up your mind. I bet those hell-bent on voting for the Democrats haven't read their deep South policies. And the fact that Chalerm Yoobamrung has joined forces with Samak Sundaravej will eventually carry no weight with those determined to give last year's coup one last snub. Tell me your stand on Thaksin Shinawatra and his downfall and that's precisely how you will mark your ballot card on election day.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could be the closest thing to a presidential election as we can get, although the race involves quite a few proxies and nominees.
For all the dizzying alliance making, shameless defections and ridiculous reunions, we voters are the ones with unwavering focus. We want our votes to reflect our thoughts on the "Great Divider" and whether our country is better or worse off with or without him.
The proxy war will be a battle between the Beauty and the Beast. From Abhisit's and Samak's physical appearance, it's not hard to tell who is who. When political prejudice comes into play, anything is possible. Either you condemn Samak for spitting venom and spitting on press freedom, or you look at him and say, "Wow. Shrek gives the biased media what it deserves."
For the Beauty, the good news is that the Beast (or Shrek to his supporters) enjoys being nasty. The bad news for the Democrats is that Samak's behaviour confirms he understands what this election is all about. To the anti-Thaksin voters, it doesn't matter even if Samak wins an international award for fostering press freedom, because they are going to vote against him anyway. To the other camp, Samak could go on and body-slam reporters for all they care.
The Beast knows he doesn't need to befriend the media. Members of the press probably don't want to be pals with a man who used to shut down newspapers for fun. Whether it reflects his foul mouth or something deeper in his mentality that would keep press-freedom advocates on their toes if he becomes prime minister, the "Did you get laid last night?" question won't bother the rural voters or even middle-class constituents who support the People Power Party.
If abhorrence of Thaksin's reign can lead many pro-democracy supporters to condone military interference in politics, what's wrong with those on the other side embracing ultra-rightist Samak and his association with Chalerm Yoobamrung and Newin Chidchob in the name of democracy?
But after five years of Thaksin and 14 months of a military junta, this Mother of all Absurdities is the least we deserve.
The question is whether or when we will be able to stop chasing our tail. It pretty much depends on how well Beauty fares. The pro- and anti-Thaksin polarity has blurred the fascinating fact that Abhisit is the only new dish on the menu. Somehow he has come to represent the No-Thaksin-at-all-costs camp.
Thailand's political crisis, in which he has played a significant part, has denied him a chance to be seen by voters the way he would have liked - as a young, energetic and smart political leader untainted by corruption. In normal circumstances, "You-have-tried-everyone-else-but-me" could have been a knockout campaign slogan.
Beauty instead will have to be content with relying on votes from Thaksin haters and detractors. Beast, on the other hand, is totally happy with his nominee status. He has vowed to restore "justice" for Thaksin if the PPP wins power, and been gleefully making the September 19 coup a major election issue.
"Everyone supported the coup but me, so make your choice," he has told the electorate. And for the reasons stated above, Shrek can be forgiven for assuming that his role before, during and after the 1976 October infamy has been forgotten.
While a triumph by Shrek would reopen old wounds and inflict fresh ones, thus plunging Thailand into new uncertainties, Beauty is likely to have the luxury of a brief honeymoon period. The country has never had a prime minister who grew up watching "Ultraman", listening to REM, is a keen follower of British soccer, and who is more eloquent than most if not all Thai politicians. A good start will buy him yet more time, during which, if we are lucky, attention can be paid to promoting political integrity and reform. And then, hopefully, we can plot a truly new national course.
But then again, Thailand's political divide is such that Beauty's rise could be a great injustice to many people, while a Shrek victory could be a perfect end to a fairy-tale. The immediate future will continue to be affected by too much acrimony, too much romanticism and too many irreconcilable differences. Only one thing is certain: it's a long, long road to an election that will truly be about taxation, education reform and social welfare.