Friday, June 11, 2010

Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘In Propitiation’, 2008

The results of the election of 23 December, 2007, gave the PPP (the new tag on the TRT party) a majority. Samak Sundaravej became the puppet prime minister of Taksin Shinawatr, as expected.

Though completely resigned to the imminent results of that election, I still felt utterly stunned, chilled, unstrung. My face turned to stone as the images on the TV monitor showed the results of the election – a country covered in blood.
I translated these emotions into photographs entitled In Propitiation and Still Life on Thai Flag because I believe that in the next minute, Taksin’s party – the PPP – would take revenge and call in what is owed to them, ‘it’s our turn, now.’ After the coup of Sept.19, 2006, many tens of thousands of millions of assets were frozen by the kor-tor-sor set up by the coup group.

A fresh pig’s heart; a moldy old dog’s skull; a chicken with it’s throat cut from Klong Toey (500 baht); a dove which broke its neck when it crashed into the studio window; and some toy plastic pigs, copulating: these things have been laid upon a national flag to create symbols of the political situation arising in Thailand – from politicians on the national level down to the regional and grass roots levels - due to lust for personal advantage with no thought for what the country stands to lose. The situation appears hopeless; it is the moral bankruptcy of the nation.

I wanted In Propitiation to be soaked in blood because I feel that the leadership, politicians and even the public seem far away and hardly feel the loss in terms of flesh and blood since the events of 6 October, 1976 and May, 1992. I created this set of works to awaken my own awareness and that of people generally, because I don’t want violent events to happen again on top of those wounds from past history.

The pictures I made became real, little by little, but more and more violent. The UDD supporters of the puppet government of Samak, used violence and attacked the PAD allies. Upcountry in the Isarn region and the North, especially in Udorn, we saw UDD thugs beat up PAD marchers. The attackers had no fear of the police or media who recorded the scenes for broadcast on air. They mocked the law of the land. Nor were the police willing to charge the UDD forces.

As for the fighting between UDD and PAD allies in Srisaket – thick faced, along the road to Kao Phra Viharn – This time there was an exchange of blows, because the PAD returned the violence, abandoning their policy of non-violence. They were unwilling to be the only side being beaten up. All over Cambodia, they saw images of Thai people rising up, taking sides to fight each other. Both sides had clubs and Thai flags, and rushed upon each other, beating and stabbing madly, bloodying each other. The pictures were sad, depressing.

Until the battle of ‘Thai koo-fah,’ 26 August, 2008. The 5 core leaders of the PAD, wanted to crush their enemy by settling down to protest for more than 3 months [in the Government House compound] and drive out the puppet government of Samak Sundaravej. Instead of telling their friends to go home to rest, recover and see the results of the court cases against Taksin Shinawatr and family and against Samak, and the closing down of the PPP, they instead moved to take over the NBT TV station, Government House and many government offices. Especially at NBT, the ‘dark victory warriors,’ a special armed group of more than 80 people, took over the station before dawn, shocking many PAD supporters generally, openly, and in secret.

Many people, including myself, were surprised why the leadership core decided to do such a thing. Did they discuss the plan with anyone? Did they know what they were doing? While the PAD were calling for Taksin and the puppet government to respect the courts and the law of the land, the leaders of the PAD led their people to break the law. (Don’t forget that Taksin himself already undermined confidence in the Thai justice system in the eyes of the international community.)

Faced with arrest warrants, the 5 + 4 ( deputies) refused to turn themselves in to face any court cases. You can imagine Taksin in London, how maliciously gleeful.

Samak’s government attacks the ‘Thai koo-fah’ plan as a provocation to instigate another coup by the military. If this is true, the PAD (“People’s Alliance for Democracy”) should change their name to something else more appropriate.

It can’t be denied that one fruit of the 19 Sept coup was that Taksin’s relatives and allies were taken to court. We saw the arrest warrants for one of the most powerful people in the country and in the history of Thai politics. The justice system demonstrated that Thai society must be governed by law, not by cronyism or connections. No one is above the law: cheats and the corrupt must go to jail. Isn’t this what the PAD wants, what we all want?

So why then, did the 5 core leaders come up with the ‘new politics’ model, which is comprised of a parliament which has 70 selected representatives and 30 elected – and give soldiers the go-ahead to make a coup when the politicians get evil and corrupt

I heard this from Sonti Limthongkul and I got angry. Although I am not a hard-core fan of the PAD, I did join them from time to time because I felt we realized together the danger to Thai society, i.e. Taksin Shinawatr and his system.

When the leadership believes in governing by ‘quota politics’ – like controlling quotas for sugar cane [a form of ‘pork barreling’] –by cabinet ministers, as they did in the old days, it means backing into the ditch of patronizing the people, lacking all confidence in their potential. I don’t know if the PAD allies really overcame their enemies in the Samak government and the Taksin system. The system of democracy – what will it look like? Will it be good or bad? We may end up fighting each other.

At this moment, Samak Sundaravej and his government have shot their bolt. They lack legitimacy in governing the country, counting from the acts against the constitution in the Kao Phra Viharn issue. The whole country rose up in protest, so it has become almost impossible for him to govern since then. Samak will have to go soon. But how will he leave – that’s another question. Will it go smoothly, with a resignation, or will parliament be dissolved? Or will there be violence and bloodshed with mass demonstrations, as in 6 October, 1976, till a coup becomes necessary?

Something that worries me and which has never been corrected at all since the government of Surayudt Chulanont is how to explain to the many millions of people who still love, are confident in and believe strongly in Taksin Shinawatr. How will we make them understand that the man they love is no good, nor is he what they think he is; that all he wanted was their vote to use as a political tool in order to enrich himself and his clique. What the people received was just small change. And how can we prevent the victimization of the people by politicians under a populist system?

So, I see that the decisions of the courts in the cases concerning Taksin, Samak and their cronies are important. The court is an institution in which people still have faith. They honor the courts and hold them in awe. We should allow the courts to handle these conflicts unimpeded so the public can see the facts. Even though it takes time, it’s the only way that still stands on principle and gives us hope.

The five leaders led the crowds of PAD allies deep into error. They went too far, involving the invasion of Government House and other government offices, breaking a lot of laws. (Actually, at this time, they have judged it illegal.) What they did could be counted as extremely irresponsible because only the leaders of the PAD made the decision to do these things. The innocent were not involved in the decision. It was not a democratic decision because the people in the movement had no voice in that decision. It was a move that had legal implications and which was risky and dangerous. Everyone involved should have been aware and given a clear choice. But . the reason why most people – aunties and uncles, nieces and nephews – agreed to go along with their leaders was because they loved and had faith in them. They had joined forces together in the struggle for a long time and felt strong bonds.

Therefore, the five leaders shouldn’t take advantage like this lightly. In the end, the leaders won’t be able to take responsibility for the lives of all these people if there is violence, wounding and dying, daring Samak to use force in hopes of a political victory by denying principles that were once held sacred, for example, faith in peaceful protest, in peaceful, non-violent demonstrations.

And it wouldn’t be right. It would be sad, very sad, if those who had to die ‘in propitiation’ in this political game were not the leaders themselves, but only old aunties who couldn’t move fast enough to escape the bullets.
The last war of the PAD allies has changed its target from fighting for the right, for justice, for balanced government. It has become a fight purely for power in the ‘new politics.’

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