Monday January 7, 2013
Becoming very black and white
ONE MAN'S MEAT
BY PHILIP GOLINGAI
Our diehard political disagreements making the country almost similar to Thailand, where the Red and Yellow divide is so distinct that there is no room for any shade of grey.
POLITICS in Malaysia is getting to be very black and white. Some Malaysians see the party they support as the absolute angel and the party they oppose as the ultimate devil.
Diehards worship their party leaders as if they were a tokong (deity). They don’t stop for a moment to think that their beloved leaders might be ... (surprise, surprise) human (who, to quote a Human League song titled Human: “I’m only Human, Of flesh and blood I’m made, Human, Born to make mistakes).
And the die-hards have a holier-than-thou attitude as if their party and leaders can do no wrong.
But not all Malaysians are like that. They are those who are colour blind when it comes to politics. Their world revolves around events such as Kim Kardashian being pregnant with Kanye West’s child and Uniqlo having a sale. Some think that Barisan Nasional still rules Selangor.
However, Malaysia is getting to be like the Thailand I knew when I worked in the Land of Smiles as The Star’s Bangkok correspondent from 2006 (days before Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as Prime Minister in a bloodless coup) to 2010 (weeks before the bloody crackdown against pro-Thaksin Red Shirts).
During my stint in Thailand, politics was Red and Yellow and nothing grey in between. (In Thai colour-coded politics, the Reds are pro-Thaksin and the Yellow are anti-Thaksin.)
And if you were a Red supporter, you would not discuss politics with a Yellow supporter if you did not want the conversation to end up in a bitter argument (and vice versa).
I worked at the headquarters of The Nation, an English language newspaper, in Bangna about 20km from Bangkok city.
Most taxi drivers who were red at heart (I’m told they loved Thaksin because he gave them taxi permits to operate their own cabs) would refuse to pick a passenger if he thought you work for The Nation.
The taxi driver had applied a warped syllogism: The Nation is anti Thaksin. Passenger A works for The Nation. Therefore passenger A is anti Thaksin.
The Red-hearted taxi drivers had stereotyped all The Nation employees as pro-yellow whereas there were journalists with the paper who were die-hard Thaksin fans.
When I stepped into a taxi when boarding from The Nation headquarters some taxi driver would speak to me in Thai and they sounded as if they didn’t want my business. Only when I say, “phut phasa Thai mai dai” (“I don’t speak Thai”) would the driver smile.
Actually there was a way (though not foolproof) to detect whether a Nation journalist was anti-Thaksin. If he/she did not use AIS, the mobile phone service provider in Thailand with the widest coverage, he/she was probably a Yellow supporter as the mobile phone company is/was owned by Thaksin.
Some Yellow shirt (and vice versa with Red shirt) followers were literally die-hard supporters.
One of my former Thai colleagues hated Thaksin with a passion. During the height of the Yellow Shirts illegal occupation of the Government House (the Prime Minister’s office) in Bangkok, I followed him at midnight to see him act out his hate towards the pro-Thaksin Thai government.
We boarded the taxi at The Nation’s headquarter and he was fearful to be in the taxi as he said the driver was a Red Shirt. “How do you know?” I asked him.
“His taxi is plastered (in Thai language) with Red Shirt stickers,” he said.
“Relax,” I said, “nothing will happen. And he is a khun Thai (a Thai person).”
“You don’t know the Red Shirts supporters,” he said. “They are barbarians.”
Near the Government House, my yellow-hearted friend wore a motorcycle helmet and carried a baseball bat and sat together with other yellow-shirted comrades.
They were waiting for the Red Shirts to break through the barbed barricade to evict the Yellow Shirts from occupying the Government House.
“Aren’t you afraid of the grenade attacks?” I asked him, as several Yellow Shirts were killed when they were attacked by grenade launcher.
“I hate Thaksin,” he replied.
He was one of the Bangkokians who cheered when the Yellow Shirts seized Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in Bangkok in 2008.
The closure of the two Bangkok airports damaged Thailand’s international image and crippled its tourism industry which accounted for 6.5% of Thailand’s gross domestic product. But for the anti-Thaksin Thais, the seizures were justified.
It was the same as when Thais, who hated Thaksin but loved democracy, cheered when the military launched a coup against the billionaire politician in 2006.
In 2011, when I returned to Bangkok to cover the Thai polls which saw Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, become Thailand’s first female Prime Minister, I asked my die-hard friend whether he was still a Yellow.
“Not all things are Yellow and Red,” said the man, who felt Abhisit Vejjajiva, who became Prime Minister with the support of the Yellow Shirts, had failed Thais. “Sometimes there is grey.”