Samudra manthan

Samudra churning or Samudra manthan is the Hindu myth about the churning of the sea of milk. Using the great naga wrapped around mount Mandhara on top of Lord Vishnu in the form of a tortoise, the devas and demons cooperated in churning the sea to achieve the ultimate prize, the nectar of immortality, Amrita. Even though the Amrita was supposed to be shared by both the devas and demons, Lord Vishnu used trickery to deny the demons the nectar. Embolden by the effects of the amrit, the gods would go on to defeat the demons. You can see a sculptural representation of this myth in the foyer of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

Although this is meant to symbolize a spiritual exercise, it could also be used as an analogy for the political process and this especially true in Thai politics. For all their good intentions, politicians must ultimately resort of deceit, trickery and misrepresentation, to achieve their goals and win the hearts and minds of their constituents. We hope to use this space as a forum to make some sense of what it is all about and in the spirit of reconciliation find out what it is the Thai people really want after the election.

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16 September 2011

Colour-Coded Politics trailer

16 July 2011

The Rain Retreat

This month is the start of the rains retreat in Thailand. In accordance with Buddhist tradition, monks will stay inside their temples for the next 3 months to allow the countryside to peacefully rejuvenate in the life giving rain. Farmers use this time to plant rice, spending whole days leg deep in water going from paddies to paddies. Cattle are herded along dirt roads often slippery with reddish mud and puddles.

Isaan is a realm of forests and plantations full of spirits, of ancient dialects alluding to the people's diverse ethnic origins and of unchanging traditions from a world far simpler than ours today. That's not to say modernity has not made an impact. Motorcycles replace horses, a satellite dish is mounted over the temple roof and the Red radio accompanies the hard working farmers in their field.

Life in a Red village is almost exactly as I expected to be. They adorn their houses with Red flags, their only source of information on the outside are the Red Radio and Red TV channels. They did not trust anything else and did do not listen to anything else, and they are proud to do so.

Not completely without reason. The rural farmers may be the backbone of the nation but they are constantly exploited and underrepresented in the country's government. They don't care much for foreign policy or encomium growth, why should they when they are the last to receive any benefits, if any at all. What does matters is a fair price for their crops, a generous healthcare policy and a sense of empowerment and these are all things that Thaksin has delivered to them in the past and what they are hoping Yingluck with provide for them now.

Despite winning the election it is still uncertain if the Peau Thai Party will come to power. Understandably the Reds are getting restless. I have not been allowed in to their meetings or told of any plans but I get the sense that these people, many of whom have been protesting and fighting for years, will not hesitate to do so again.

13 July 2011

Isaan or Bust!

We are back in business! Tomorrow I am going to bus it to Khon Kaen, a gateway city to the Isaan region of Thailand and then onwards to the notorious ' Red villages' of Isaan.

Isaan is one of the poorest region of Thailand and it is the heartland of the Red Shirts. The Red Villages are a recent development, I don't know the exact details but I think they started popping up after the bloody clashes in Bangkok last year and many Red Shirts were fearful of further violence. The first Red village sprung up when their leader decided that they needed to show people that they were not afraid to be Red and so they hung red flags all over the village.

That understandably caused much concern in Bangkok, many people still have memories of the Communist days and rumors began flying of Red Shirt militant camps and weapon caches.

I don't know what to expect but I doubt I would see anything like that. If not the least because I had to tell them I was coming. Still, it is extremely unlikely that the Reds would be arming themselves in any large scale fashion.

What I do expect is a sense of cautious optimism. They've won the election and are now waiting to see what sort of government will appear from all the wheeling and dealing that is going right now. Experts are predicting mid August before the new government comes into power.

04 July 2011

Day 7 – Seeing Red

No doubt by now anyone interested in this topic would know the big news. Puea Thai (Red Shirts) has surprisingly won a indisputably decisive victory, claiming 261 out of 500 seats. Yingluck now looks to become the first female Prime Minister of Thailand. I was at the PT headquarters yesterday, sandwiched amongst journalists, camera operators, bloggers and red shirts supporters. The excitement kicked off at about 3pm when the results of the Exit Poll showed that Peau had over 300 seats. Though not accurate, the writing was on the wall for the Democrats and the Red shirts started gathering in force to celebrate. Many of them had been supporting the reds since Thaksin was ousted in the 2006 army coup.

When the lady herself arrived in her car outside the OAI Tower (the Party HQ) the crowd and the press went into a frenzy, immediately mobbing her and her entourage as they exited their vehicles and shoved their way towards the building. At times it looked like the crowd would descend into chaos, especially going up the stairs with many of the top-heavy camera operators swayed like they were about to topple over backwards. After 5 excruciating minutes Yingluck’s entourage made it into the elevator taking them up and away from the trigger-happy crowd.

Their champion safe upstairs, the red shirts gathered around the various flat screen TVs set up for the occasion. The atmosphere grew increasingly festive as the official results started rolling in and by evening hundreds of Red Shirts were gathered outside cheering and chanting ‘Yingluck! Nai Yok!’, Yingluck! Prime Minister! Many of the supporters came from the rural Issan province and they started playing traditional music and dancing. It was infectious; a few of the foreign journalists were even pulled reluctantly into the mix.

Yingluck is not only the first female Prime Minister, but also the youngest and probably the least experienced, never having held a public office prior to the election. This was made clear to me yesterday at about 10pm when she came out to address her adoring fans. Before her were 3 veteran members of her party who worked the crowd and spoke at length about their policies and intent. Each spoke for about 20 minutes, constantly assuring the crowd and the foreign press that Yingluck was held up by interviews and would come down as soon as she can. The hours wore on but it didn’t curb the people’s enthusiasm and when she finally came down she was baptized by a firestorm of camera flashes, turning her into an incandescent angelic figure with hands held together to wai the crowd.

Yes, she is beautiful, yes, she is friendly but when she spoke she lacked the commanding presence that one would expect of a future PM and it was very, very brief. The crowd didn’t seem to care though and they hung on her every word and roared with approval at every syllable.

Yingluck’s appointment was a stroke of genius. Whatever her brother had done, however inexperience she is, the Thai people wanted change and nothing can be more different than this woman with her brilliant smile and perfect skin.

Perhaps another point to consider is that the Army would be far more hesitant to take down a public figure who has endeared herself to the masses and the world media so quickly. Certainly any move to oust her now would be PR disaster for Thailand and would provoke some serious reaction from the people.

Make no mistake though, she is a puppet for her brother whose image was depicted on flags and badges worn proudly by many of the red shirt supports. The democrats have already vowed to oppose any move to grant Thaksin amnesty, but they are a minority and stopping Thaksin democratically may not be an option.

03 July 2011

Day 6 - Countdown

I shot the prime minister today. Obviously with the video camera otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog. I was in Siam getting some interviews when there was a huge commotions and lots of people shouting out ‘Democrats!’. I ran over to see the fuss and lo and behold the man himself Abhisit Vejjajiva, surrounded by his entourage and dozens of democrat supporters in full campaign mood. Infants were held, autograph signed, elderly woman spoken to, the public responded positively, people flocked over to see him, armed with phones and cameras held high in the air taking pictures. Girls were giggling just being near him and many seemed truly star-struck at the sight of the incumbent Prime Minster. I took the opportunity to get close as well, filming all the way and getting an autograph. Ahbisit projected and air of calm and control, things have been looking up the last 24 hours. Most of the minor parties are more willing to form a coalition with the Democrats than Peau Thai so unless the Reds can score over 251 seats then it would likely mean a second term for him.

The fate of the nation will be decided tomorrow. Polls close at 3pm and the official announcement is expected to be tomorrow night at around 9pm. However the exit poll results will come out much earlier.

I’m planning on basing myself at the Peau Thai headquarters tomorrow. Win or lose it should be where the action is. The Reds losing the election could see Bangkok erupting in mass protest, but on other hand winning might provoke the army to step in. Those are worst case scenarios, both parties are promising to respect the outcome of the election. We can only wait and see.

02 July 2011

Day 5 - Lights! Camera! Monsoon!

It is probably my own bad karma for insulting the rain spirits in my last post but yesterday was wet. I’m talking vengeful, relentless, change-my-underwear-when-I-got home wet. But more about the state of my underwear later..

Yesterday was the last day for campaigning and both parties had ordered massive rallies for their constituents. Peau Thai at Rajamangala Stadium and the Democrats at the Royal Plaza. Because of ease of travel I decided to check out the Democrats’ final push for votes.

Traffic was so dense around the rally that no Taxis or tuks tuks was willing to take me in there. The only way to get through the traffic was literally, on the backseat of a motorcycle weaving in and out of cars and buses. Even then the direct road was completely blockaded by hundreds of smiling but determined Yellow shirts waving and shouting ‘Vote No’ at the oncoming traffic.

The final 500 metres was on foot, and in the pouring rain. The heavens opened up, sending thousands of democrats supporters scrambling for shelter and grabbing whatever improvised cover they can. I saw cardboard, straw mats, jackets, banners, even plastic bags worn over the head in a vain attempt to stay dry. Hundreds of supporters turned back but the faithful stayed on, brandishing umbrellas or squeezed in together under cover. I found myself underneath one of the big screens hiding out with the technical crews giving the politicians on stage the rock star treatment.

Despite the downpour the vibe at the rally was positive, fanatical even. Cries of ‘Ahbisit!’ and ‘Number 10’ echoed across the plaza. Especially during the awkward 5 minutes when the main stage sound went out just as Abhisit himself was about to speak and the tech crews around me rushed out into the soaking rain to fix the technical hiccup. Ahbisit was soon back onstage outlining his party’s policies to help the poor and working class, as well as reminding the audience of the evils of Thaksin. The way he was going on, it felt like he was campaigning against Thaksin himself and not his younger sister, which is perhaps not far from the truth.

Eventually it was time to head off and in the confusion of the mass exodus I ended up heading in the opposite direction of where I should have going. By the time I came to my senses I found myself in inner city Bangkok which was still lively despite the torrential rain. Cold and starving I was relieved to find some food vendors (not that they are rare) and bought myself the best barbecue pork skewers and sticky rice I’ve ever had, though being soaked for 3 hours probably effected my judgment, now that I think about it the skewers weren't even warm.

I stumbled along for a few more blocks before running into a high school student getting rejected by a taxi. I had been looking for a taxi myself and so I ran up to wave the taxi but the driver didn’t see me. I then turned to the boy and asked him why the taxi wouldn’t let him on and apparently the traffic was so bad heading to the BTS (monorail) station that it wasn’t worth his time. I was also trying to find the BTS station myself and so Kane and I joined forces. Just then Kane’s mobile phone rang, his ring tone was Mario’s theme song. Kane had 3 friends waiting undercover for him to get them a taxi but apparently a bus had come that would take them to the station. Kane and I started running but we just missed it, Kane slapped the side of the bus in frustration as it rolled out. Mario’s theme song came on again, Kane’s friends was on that bus. Kane then he had an idea. He told me to follow and we started running down a dark alley that commonly crisscrossed inner city blocks in Thailand. These alleys are narrow and only meant for shop keepers to access the back of their shops, where they also lived, and certainly not meant sprinting through. Dodging mangy dogs and amused locals eating dinner, Kane told me that we were going to try to cut the bus off as it rounded the block. I was glad I’ve been keeping up my cardio as it was a good 300 meters of puddles and slippery concrete before we reached the other side and leapt onto the bus. Home bound at last we relaxed and chatted about his schools and laughed about the rain, which stopped the moment we got on the bus. Lousy night of shooting but at least I made a friend.

01 July 2011

Day 4 - Stormy Skies

It’s the wet season in Thailand. So far it’s been rain and lightning for the last 3 days here in Bangkok. Not that it has been torrential pouring, more like frequent but brief spells. The real storm of course is the political one that is going to reach a climax within the next few days. I spoke with Mr. Chavarong Limpattamapanee, the President of the Thai Journalists Association to discuss a few possible post-election scenarios. Essentially it comes down whether the populist Peua Thai Party lead by the photogenic Yingluck will get enough support to have a majority government, that is, winning more than 250 of the possible 500 seats. Peua Thai is already expected to win the most seats, but that’s out of 40 (that’s right 40) political parties, and many of the minor parties are more likely to form a coalition government with Abhisit’s democrats.

Being the most popular party doesn’t necessarily mean Yingluck will be Prime Minister, it would more likely mean a hung parliament and some serious negotiations in which the minor parties will play a vital role.

Peau Thai getting the majority would mean the smoothest road to government, unless of course the army decides otherwise and throws another one of their world famous coups – or the Yellow shirts rising up in mass protest like the last time the Reds won.

The latter scenario is unlikely as the Yellow shirts have fragmented into near irrelevance this time round. Their ‘No Vote’ campaign (pictured) is amusing but is seen as unhelpful by most of the population. Rightly so, the yellows asking people to vote 'No' (as opposed to not voting at all) to express their anger at the government is not going to solve Thailand's problems.

The army though remains the real threat to Yingluck and the Reds. So far they have said they will do nothing and respect the law. The problem is that the law and the interpretations of it is a point of contention it itself.

30 June 2011

Bangkok Post : PM refuses challenge by Hun Sen

Bangkok Post : PM refuses challenge by Hun Sen
Just more political grandstanding by the PM. When is he going to take the high road in this election instead of trying to appeal to a fringe element that will not support him anyway.

Bangkok Post : The real meaning of reconciliation

Bangkok Post : The real meaning of reconciliation
At last a real discussion on what it will take to move forward.  Let us hope that those that are running for office are listening. 

How to interpret the ‘no vote’ in the Thai election? | Asian Correspondent

How to interpret the ‘no vote’ in the Thai election? | Asian Correspondent
This campaign by PAD is more evidence that they have migrated to the fringe of the political discourse.  How can they be taken seriously?  They have even abandoned their own political party, reasoning that anyone involved in the political process in corrupt.