A Dark Moment for Thailand-Somtow Sucharitkul
May 15, 2012
Somtow’s World: May 9, 2012
The media madness and the conspiracy theorists have already begun. Blame is being assigned, bucks are being passed, and every partisan is using this old man’s death to blacken the name of his political opponent. This is all perhaps to be expected. But all the obfuscation shouldn’t obscure the fact this is perhaps the worst PR disaster that could happen to Thailand at this moment. No one can possibly win, and no one’s agenda can possibly be served.
It is a PR disaster not because of the debate over whether whether he committed the crime or not, nor because of the debate over whether what he did, if he did it, should be a crime or not.
It is a PR disaster because when you look at the “Thailand” section in any airport in the world, there are two kinds of books: books about Thai hookers, and books about Thai prisons. The “Bangkok Hilton” and the “Bangkok Brothel” are the two best known features of this country, with politicians perhaps forming a subdivision of the brothel department.
When an old man, accused of a dubious crime, who may well have been railroaded, dies in a prison in a country with “democracy” issues, no one in the outside world is going to believe that there was nothing fishy about it. Everyone “knows” that prisons in Thailand are exactly like in those mass market exploitation paperbooks found in every airport. Everyone also “knows” that prisoners of conscience in “uncivilized dictatorship”-type countries do not die natural deaths.
I’m not talking, you understand, about what is “true”. I am talking about what is “known.” What people know can be very far from the truth, but it can be far more damaging than the truth.
If this is a right-wing plot to shut up an embarrassing person, it has already backfired. It this is a left-wing plot to create a martyr, it will also backfire, because our government is going to find itself saying opposite things out of both sides of its mouth. Indeed, it can be said that this one death has destroyed a year of carefully laying groundwork for a revisionist notion that this government, compared to the previous one, is the harbinger of freedom. Cynicism is free to reign once more.
Let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume no conspiracies. Let’s assume that no one meant for this to happen. That it was all just an unfortunate twist of karma.
Well, I’m afraid that imputing the best motives to everyone still doesn’t let them off the hook. Because we can’t wriggle out of the fact that a court did not grant Ah Kong bail because “he may be sick, but it’s not as if he’s going to die.” This statement is on the record.
And regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, you know this is wrong, because this isn’t an affront to your political beliefs. It’s an affront to your humanity.
In the end, therefore, it must be said that we all killed Ah Kong. Some through action, others through inaction, but most of us through indifference, fear, and apathy.
If I were this government’s spin doctor, which I am not, I would seize the moment. I would put the PM on the air and have her weep effectively and offer a completely transparent and non-partisan apology for this man’s death. After all, it is this governments paranoia over being perceived as anti-establishment that has caused it to overreact to anything that might be seen as anti-establishment.
A well nuanced apology would clear the air a little, perhaps, and it could certainly plant the seed of hope in what is otherwise an unmitigated disaster for left, right, and middle.