Friday, June 24, 2011

Manit Sriwanichpoom,“ ‘Being a Woman’ and Taksin.”

Manit Sriwanichpoom,“ ‘Being a Woman’ and Taksin,” in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News, Yr. 58, Vol. 38, 10 – 16 June, 2011.

There may never have been an election in which ‘being a woman’ was such a political selling point as it is in the election of 2011.

Indeed, yes, I’m speaking of Yingluck Shinawatr, the new political chewing gum of Taksin Shinawatr, her older brother.

Who could be a better ‘nominee’, a better ‘clone,’ than his own little sister? Better still, there is no suggestion of possibilities of betrayal or any cheating about the size of the payment coming afterwards.

As the slogan announces in the campaign slogan, ‘Taksin does the thinking; Yingluck carries it out.’

Nothing could be clearer than that! Thai politics has again arrived at a dead end. ‘To take Taksin or not to take Taksin.’ The hosts of red shirts and red academics who boasted that things had gotten past Taksin are all tight-lipped now.

Anyway, this election battle should be called ‘in which Taksin recalls his female resources.’

Thai politics are better than the Ramakien! Who would have imagined that a character like ‘Yingluck’ would emerge from the shadows, acting out the possibility that Thailand could have its first woman prime minister.

Taksin must have done the math well enough: bringing in another male ‘nominee’ like Samak Suntaravej would turn things back into the old track, as in the election of 2007. Having a showdown between male opponents could turn violent. So he decided instead to change his nominee to a pretty female clone, fresh and unblemished. He figures that his male rivals wouldn’t dare to attack her too cruelly, since she is just a woman, one of the weaker sex.

So we see Ahpisit Vechashiwa and Suthep Teuksuban in a situation where they have to pull their punches. They have to mind their language for fear of being accused of abusing a woman and a young newcomer.

Try to imagine, if you can, venerable old Big Jiew Chavalit Yongchaiyudt or Mingkwan Saengsuwan as the head of the Puea Thai party and vying for the prime minister’s seat. The atmosphere of the campaign would be hot and mean, certainly much more brutal.

Marketing ‘being a woman’ is real business and not something that is cooked up lightly. The news about this [campaign] has been carefully controlled from the start. Campaign posters all over the country introduced Yingluck Shinawatr among the first ranks of Puea Thai, running for election to the party list.

In the past, photos of female candidates for ส.ส. and ส.ว. would have full face images, perhaps the face turning just a bit. They would wear their hair short or tied smartly back in order to look firm and no-nonsense. (The exception is the ‘Big-hair’ favored by upper class women. Their hairspray creates hairstyles like helmets for them.) In this way, voters are helped to overlook the candidates’ being a woman, a fact that can be seen as an obstacle in working with the male politicians who dominate the political landscape.

But Yingluck’s photos go in quite the opposite direction. She turns a three-quarters view of her face to the camera, smiling to show her white teeth. Her hair is loosed and let down long. Parted on the left, it falls over her full, round right cheek, making her appear more slim.
Her long hair is twisted into a thin spiral that comes down across her shoulder and ไหปลาร้า Wearing a soft black suit, she appears before a rather scary, dark grey background which helps make her face look brighter, more white and sexy – more so than the campaign posters of other women candidates. And this poster uses the same principles as shampoo and cosmetic advertising. The emphasis is more about ‘being a woman,’ and ‘sex appeal’ than about selling a politician or being an administrator – which is the only qualification she actually brings to her bid for political office. Such is the first information [about Yingluck] which Taksin communicated to the people.

Letting all that hair fall loosely like that in her campaign posters wasn’t a random action. Even when campaigning herself, Yingluck wears her hair loose, as in the posters. In spite of hot weather or blasting sun, she doesn’t pull her hair back for comfort or convenience. The relaxed way in which she manages her long ‘hair’ is a way of maintaining and driving in the point that she is a woman: the voters won’t be allowed to forget that.

When she actually goes out to woo voters, we usually get news of Yingluck’s ‘woman’s tears’ from the campaign platforms of Chiengmai and many other places. These tears elicit no little pity among voters for the cruel fate of her dear older brother.

Thai society has long had a taste for tear-jerking soap dramas. If lies are repeated often enough, they are liable to become real one day. Stories of the life of Taksin, if told skillfully, become tales which enthrall the world, inviting the fascination and tears of the households of the nation.

In the election campaign, Taksin doesn’t leave his sister to manage on her own. He created a team of handlers he refers to as his ‘Brains Trust”, comprised of former executives in the Thai Rak Thai party who had been side-lined from political activity. They assess and advise [Yingluck] about the way to address audiences on various occasions.

There is a news report by the Bangkok Post newspaper from 28 Feb.2011 which states that after Yingluck tried to make a forceful address in the manner of professional politicians like Chalerm Yubamroong. The result of that was that she didn’t look good, wasn’t convincing. The team therefore changed their approach. They had her speak more briefly; just talk about her own feelings, about her old brother, Taksin, the pitiable leader who has not received justice. Regarding policy, others would speak instead. Yingluck has activities which win the hearts of the people in humble, homely ways, for example, walking through fields and gardens, doing some cooking, and trying to use Isarn dialect in her speeches.

On 29 May, Taksin gave an interesting interview with newspaper reporters in Singapore for the Straits Times. The interview reflects why he chose his younger sister to be prime minister.
‘The soldiers become extremely agitated because of the news that I will change Thailand to be a republic and make myself president. But really, that’s not at all the case. When one is a leader, one must be strong. Otherwise, you can’t change things which are chronic problems. As soon as one is firm and strong, zap! People say I want to be president! That’s nonsense! That’s why I want the prime minister to be a woman. They won’t think that a woman could do such a thing.’

Taksin must think that changing the country must be the task of men like him. Women like Yingluck, his younger sister, don’t have the wit to achieve such a thing, so the soldiers should not be so edgy.

It’s interesting why he believes that.

In fact, Thai women have never had the image of revolutionaries. Those who are celebrated are women who were defending the country from invasion by enemies, for example, in the stories of Suriyothai, of Yah Mo or Thao Thep Kasatri, and Thao Srisoonthorn, as we memorize in primary school.

We have nothing like ‘Liberty Leading the People’ (1830), the large oil painting by Eugene Delacroix, of a French woman carrying forward the flag of the revolution to overthrow the French monarchy.

This time, for Yingluck, her only task is to defend the interests of her beloved older brother.

To conclude, ‘being a woman,’ in Taksin’s view is just being another instrument to move his game forward as he searchers for a way to get back his kingdom again. When one sees that being a man is an obstacle, he is reading to use being a woman, or to put it more directly, to use ‘the illusion of a woman’ in his sister for his own ends. It is dazzling and brutal use of his beloved sister. As for Yingluck – the woman’s side – no need to pity her. She is 44 years old.

When ‘being a woman’ is blemished and doesn’t sell, or when the strength of the spell has worn off in Thai society, Taksin will have to think up a new marketing strategy to use against his sluggish political enemies and against the rest of the country.

When it’s like this, it’s not strange that there begins to be some sound of women’s rights groups and some women academics from universities who are expressing disappointment because they know well that the first Thai woman prime minister would really be ‘Taksin transformed into a woman.’

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