Writing about politics in Southeast Asia – and particularly in Thailand – provides an outlet for all types of creative and colourful comparisions. That’s just as well because anybody hoping to provoke their readers to sit up and pay attention often needs blunt and provocative imagery. Today, I was struck by a long article in The International Herald Tribune that began with a metaphorical flourish:
About a week ago, the Thai press reported on a 30-year-old man, apparently not a brilliant one, who, for unexplained reasons, was tormenting an elephant. He hit the animal, according to the newspapers, whereupon the usually placid beast wrapped the man in his trunk, slammed him down, and trampled him to death.
This may be stretching a point, but it seemed to me, visiting Thailand after an absence of a few years, that the elephant-kills-man story is a pretty good metaphor for the delicate state of Thai politics these days, almost a year after an army coup overthrew a democratically elected government that had run afoul of important segments of Thai society.
The ruling coup’s leadership is the elephant in this scheme of things, striving to be a useful beast, indeed making plans to exit the stage as soon as its plans for a constitutional referendum and new elections, all by the end of the year, have been carried out.
But then there are those people angry about military rule and, in some cases, allied to the government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that was overthrown last September.
They have been trying, in the name of democracy, to get all Thailand sufficiently riled up to attack the elephant.
So far, however, the elephant has trampled them.
Of course, here on New Mandala there are many different perspectives on Thai politics and society. Perhaps not everybody will agree with the elephant metaphor. So, it’s worth asking: what’s your metaphor for Thai politics? Can anybody out there do better in the metaphor stakes than The International Herald Tribune‘s elephant?