Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tanks in Bangkok and democracy in Hong Kong

I chatted with a Thai friend online today. He’s a news anchor in Bangkok at a TV network that used to have close ties with the ousted prime minister.

“They still let us do our newscasts,” he said of the military authorities. “But we need to be more careful now.”

That’s quite an understatement, especially since he went on to say, “There are soldiers in the newsroom.”

With that, a vibrant – albeit young and struggling – democracy in Southeast Asia has turned to just another authoritarian or totalitarian regime in the region.

“Now our news is just like yours,” my friend added, taking a shot at my employer, a media outlet based in a fellow ASEAN country known for its abundance of wealth and lack of freedoms.

So he's got a good point. Sadly, while my ordeal is almost over, his has just begun.

I realize how unpopular Thaksin was with Thai urbanites and southern Muslims. But instead of voting him out, many people appear satisfied to see ambitious generals topple a divisive but legitimately elected leader – even if it means the curtailing of civil liberties in the process.

“We will just have to wait and see,” my Thai friend concluded, disagreeing with the army’s action but feeling resigned to the current situation.

And then there were those pictures splashed across Hong Kong newspapers – showing local tourists happily posing with soldiers in front of tanks on the streets of Bangkok.

Many among those tourists must have repeatedly told pollsters that they want universal suffrage in Hong Kong now – since that has been the wish of the majority in the city for some time.

It’s rather ironic that they cheer for the loss of democracy abroad while demanding it back home. Maybe Beijing is right after all – some Hong Kongers are “too simple, sometimes naïve.”

1 comment:

Middleman said...

While I have my reservations about the wisdom of starting a blog at 4 a.m. on Saturday (be honest, did you have a big Friday night or do you just really suck that much?), I applaud your tenacity.

As for the situation in Thailand, don't write the country off as another non-democratic, crackpot, Southeast Asian backwater just yet. One would be remiss to put Thailand in the same category as Myanmar, for instance, even though both happen to be run for the time being by military juntas.

The military leadership in Thailand is talking alot about democracy and elections and stability, and judging by what I've seen on TV, their actions are not exactly unpopular. Was Thaksin any better? Was Thaksin helping foster democracy?