Fifty shades of “Salim”

When future historians deal with political “colors” in Thailand, the first thing they will probably need to do is acquaint themselves with words like “Burgundy”, or “Carmine”, or “Amaranth”, or “Turmeric” or “Marigold”. The country’s political polarization used to be defined simply as “Red” on one side and “Yellow” on the other, but those involved have found a way to make it a lot more complicated.

Just before the last general election, “Orange” emerged. It allied itself with “Red”, while“Yellow” became their common enemy and continued to be generally called “Salim”. The word “Salim”, which had existed long before the days of the Orange, even made its way to Wikipedia, which described it as follows: “In contemporary Thai politics, Salim is a Thai slang referring to people who are skeptics of democracy and support the military’s involvement in politics.”

It obviously stopped being simply a few days ago, when a pro-Red writer and celebrity, Lakkhana Panwichai, better known as Kam Phaka, referred to the “Orange movement” as “Salim Phase 2”. To the general public, the logic (not necessarily her exact reasoning) appears to be that Red is “pro-Thaksin” and “anti-military”, Yellow is “anti-Thaksin” and “pro-military”, while “Salim Phase 2” is “anti-Thaksin” and “anti-military”.

In other words, “Salim Phase 2” is a movement that has become disillusioned with “non-democratic intervention” in politics but cannot bring itself to support Thaksin, who in Red’s eyes unequivocally “represents democracy”. This has angered or annoyed people in the Orange camp for two main reasons. First, for a non-Salim to be called Salim, it’s the biggest insult. Second, the Orange movement is essentially the Move Forward Party and its supporters, and they want to go into the next general election on an anti-Salim platform. To be called “Salim Phase 2”, therefore, is not just a normal devaluing or contempt, but it’s also a major political discredit that could affect the electoral outcome.

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That Kam Phaka is closely associated with Pheu Thai prompts all kinds of suspicion. Pheu Thai and Move Forward _ like the Democrats and Palang Pracharath Party _ are competing for the same “markets”. The first two are wooing anti-Salim voters whereas the latter two are in need of backing from the Salim populace. It’s understandable why Kam Phaka is making Pheu Thai smile, Move Forward frown, and their opponents laugh.

The “frenemy politics” was intense in the South lately when the Democrats and Palang Pracharath went toe to toe in by-elections in Songkhla and Chumphon. Pheu Thai and Move Forward will not be able to avoid that kind of standoff in the next general election. A very intense prelude maybe just a few months away when Bangkok voters elect a new city governor, a position eyed by every political “color” in Thailand.

The Bangkok gubernatorial election can generate a lot of confusion. Is Chadchart Sittipunt, a former Pheu Thai man, actually a Red? Or is he a Salim now, because he has abandoned Pheu Thai to become an independent runner? Or is he a Salim Phase 2 type, because he wants to stay away from Thaksin, considered by some to be democracy’s big flaw? Is Move Forward candidate Wiroj Lakkaadisorn a Salim Phase 2? And if Pheu Thai decides not to field any candidate and opts to support a “pro-democracy competitor” outside the party instead, who would that be _  Wiroj or Chadchart?

Regarding the next general election, the good news for the Pheu Thai and Move Forward frenemies is that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will have to fly by the seat of his pants. Relying on tanks and guns is one thing; having to survive “democratically”, whether through truth or lies, is another. Harder still for Prayut is how to advertise himself in a highly-divisive national atmosphere.

When Prayut suggested the other day that he would die fighting like a brave soldier, much of the irony must have escaped the embattled prime minister. “Democratic” politics as we know it does not require bravery as much as good timing, shrewdness, and the ability to manipulate and make the best use of the “colors”.

Which brings us to the possibilities of “Salim Phase 3”, “Salim Phase 4” and so on. “Salim Phase 3” maybe those who don’t like the military that much, hate Thaksin, but still find Prayut to be a lesser devil. Phase 4 may question “democracy” as being advocated right now despite serious shortcomings but will accept a better or corruption-proof democratic system. On and on it can go.

By Tulsathit Taptim

From Thaksin’s crooner to Prayut’s promoter – the pinball political career of Seksakol Atthawong


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