I can’t be the only one who watched the events of the past day in Thailand as though it were a mangled re-mix of the past half-decade. We have anti-government slumber parties at strategic sites, spliced with anxiety over a censure motion, and the Prime Minister extending the Internal Security Act: it’s a rehash of so many things we’ve seen before.
Yesterday proved, yet again, that Thai politics remains as unpredictable and potentially dangerous as ever. Anti-government protests are big and growing.
For New Mandala, yesterday was also significant with the targeting of long-time contributor Nick Nostitz by a speaker on a protest stage.
As events unfolded, we were alarmed by the early Twitter reports that Nick was being set upon by an anti-government mob. As long-time New Mandala readers know too well, Nick is a courageous and determined documentarian; an old-school, front-line reporter and street-level analyst, prepared to regularly risk his safety to bring us unique perspectives on Thailand’s political dramas.
I have every confidence that in 60 years when the historians turn their attention to Thailand (2006 – 2016) they will go, firstly, to the Nostitz essays and books to understand the politics of this tumultuous decade.
He has an uncanny knack for taking the telling photograph and weaving it into a broader context of social, political and economic change. His work is provocative and compelling, an indispensable guide to “red” and “yellow”, and so much more. For those of you new to his work, I can do no better than commend his 2010 photo-essay titled “In the killing zone“. There is no better reportage.
Overnight we have heard from Nick who tells us that he escaped the assault with “a few bruises”. We are very thankful to those who helped to secure his safety. The “problem”, as Nick quite rightly points out, “is the ongoing hate campaign”.
It saddens me to know that thousands of people “liked” the Facebook campaign against Nick. Pathetic. It appears that the relevant page has now been removed from Facebook but not, apparently, before it had more than 9,000 endorsements from the ‘net horde. It’s spiteful stuff. The targeting of an individual journalist for political purposes is shameful and should be condemned in the strongest terms by all people of goodwill. Nick must know that he does not stand alone.
If you feel inclined, please leave a message of support for Nick as a comment at the bottom of this post. For today, I know that will mean a great deal to him. Let him know how much his work means. Let’s not allow the haters to win.
But what about tomorrow? What about Thailand?
These are tense and dangerous days, with the country once again lurching towards the precipice. Some people are clearly motivated to give it an extra shove. In one tweet I saw the protests described as an “insurrection”. The word fits.
For now, and barring further dramatic escalation, there’s every chance that the Yingluck Shinawatra government can withstand the barrage of street protests. She has cultivated the armed forces and the palace in the knowledge that, in this kind of crisis, they will ultimately determine what happens next.
Yet the longer-term implications of these repeated efforts to bring down elected governments cannot be discounted. Over time it seems likely that something will crack and — whether its through the judiciary, military or some other mechanism — another group of coup-makers will take charge.
Almost inevitably they will do so in the name of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the strength of the land. The long history of such interventions suggests that they resolve nothing, and lead to further rounds of crisis and instability. They weaken the country, and the royal institution too.
Eventually this pattern will be replaced by something different. But not yet, not tomorrow.