Tears and silences

22 11 2011

It has been interesting to observe how those who claim to be anti-Thaksin Shinawatra and also the bastions of true democracy in Thailand have shown themselves to have more than their fair share of anti-democratic values and ideas.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy showed that democracy was only really meant for an educated few. The PAD stage was often a site of pure right-wing xenophobia that sometimes descended into racism, usually directed at Cambodians. The crusty royalists, who have never even been pretend democrats, have also shown themselves capable of racism and anti-foreign comments.

A few days ago PPT commented on the “throwback male chauvinism” of an article by a senior editor at the Bangkok Post when referring to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. That comment could apply to much of the mainstream media.

In the Bangkok Post today there is a malicious piece of chauvinism disguised as an opinion page. You get the picture when you read: “… our lady prime minister‘s leadership style might not be well-suited to the situation. A flood is best managed with military-style leadership and centralised decision-making, with decentralised execution.” Note the Army is great refrain as well. Then this: “The prime minister’s matronly style and her aristocratic charm hardly fit the bill.” And, finally: “All of us were smitten by her demeanour, her glamour and her charisma.” This is a sexist call for a tough, manly leader dressed up as a call to Yingluck to bang heads and be a “real leader.” That it comes from Prapai Kraisornkovit “Lifestyle Editor” of the same gender as Yingluck doesn’t make it any less sexist.

One central element of this antediluvian chauvinism and a call for testosterone-laced leadership has been the focus on the premier’s alleged capacity to shed a tear when faced by the tragedy of the floods. That is nowhere better demonstrated than in the cartoons from the yellow-shirt mouthpiece known as ASTV/Manager, reproduced here, here and here at 2Bangkok.com. It is pretty nasty stuff and totally outdated. It can be nastier still, as Sanitsuda Ekachai commented in an article a few days ago.

In addition to Sanitsuda, there have been other critiques. We reckon that expressions of compassion has been sadly lacking in Thailand’s politics for some time. Think of all the political massacres that have been the work of a few men who were ever so manly in their violence.

Nowhere has the political divide been clearer than in the stunning silences that punctuate the discussion of leadership and tears, not least from people who claim to be feminists. They are the ones who should be most offended and very angry about this reassertion of women are weak trope.

We use that last word deliberately as a pointer to the claim that so-called new social movements were to be the leading edge of progressive politics in the 21st Century. That notion appears to have fallen on its postcolonial face in Thailand, where “new politics” is royalist, class-bound and anything but progressive.