BANGKOK– The chic thing in Thailand is to protest loudly for democracy by blowing a whistle on ruling class members that just tried to pass an amnesty bill to forgive themselves of their sins.
Its made whistles and whistle-blowing very cool in Bangkok lately, made even more so in that it actually worked.
The voice of the people blowing the whistle on the government was heard, halting the amnesty stunt in its tracks.
But that’s not all folks.
On Friday night, an estimated 50,000 people gathered at one end of Bangkok to hear the next step.
Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of Thailand’s democratic opposition group, called for an end to the current Thai government—beginning an impeachment process and signature campaign to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her top deputies.
As he stood at the Democracy Monumnet on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, thousands were a few miles away at the Asiatique center on the river, kicking off the three day Loy Krathong Festival complete with floating barges of flowers and lights that will attract millions of Thais—and foreign tourists– to Bangkok.
It’s the conflicting picture Thailand doesn’t really want anyone outside to know about.
And the best thing that can be said are the protests and the government response has been peaceful and non-violent—for now.
Over the last few weeks, the country has been steaming over a legislative bill that would have granted amnesty to corrupt politicians dating back to 2004. The bill would have included amnesty for the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Name sound familiar?
It doesn’t help that the main force behind the amnesty bill was the current prime minister, who just happens to be the sister of the now exiled leader.
The Senate rejected the bill. And the House may still bring it up, though a coalition has said it won’t bring it back.
But opposition leader Suthep seems willing to go for broke here, and use the momentum of the people’s passion to rid Thailand of every last remnant of the Thaksin government.
Suthep told the cowed Friday night that the amnesty bill was “only the tip of the evils of the Thaksin regime.”
I was in the crowd on Friday and it all reminded me of the “People Power” of the Philippines, which I covered in the 80s. Suthep may not seem like Cory Aquino, and the Shinawatras may not be exact replicas of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
But some people I’ve talked to aren’t shy to even suggest that the corruption of Thailand’s political past indeed approximates the evils of a dictator.
The whistle blowing also shows the people don’t seem in the mood to forgive.
The 50,000 at the Democracy Monument rivalling those at Asiatique may indicate that when it comes to forgiveness, the people of Thailand have something else in mind.
In the Loy Krathong Festival, people come to ask Ganga, the goddess of the river, to forgive all the transgressions of the last year as she sweeps up the floral krathong offerings.
But now that Thais have discovered that whistleblowing is real people power, they may not be so willing to let their political leaders off the hook so easily.
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