23 July 2024

A green mint-chocolate drink has taken on a distinctly political flavor in Thailand as bitter division threatens to engulf the country again. 

“If Pheu Thai joins hands with [outgoing coalition leader] Palang Pracharath, then Mint Choc will never be the same,” a Thalu Wang protester shouted at Pheu Thai headquarters on Sunday.

News that Pheu Thai may ditch election-winner Move Forward and join Palang Pracharath (PPRP) to form the next government has prompted cafes like Svnslowbar and Bann Pu Kan to drop the mint chocolate drink from their menu.

“Over the past few days, we have been feeling nauseous when drinking Choc Mint,” announce Svnslowbar’s Facebook page. “So, it will be taken off the menu.”

The distinctive green beverage became a symbol of Pheu Thai after Paetongtarn Shinawatra, one of the party’s three prime ministerial candidates, revealed she was partial to the drink.

Historic brew

Evidence suggests that Europeans began adding mint to hot drinking chocolate in the 16th century after discovering cocoa beans in South America. Back then, chocolate was used in its raw form without sugar, so people added mint to soften the bitter taste.

The mint-cocoa combination became so popular that when chocolate took off, people began adding it to bars, snacks and even ice cream.

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Political implications

Mint choc, then, has been around for centuries – but this seems to be the first time it has taken on a political flavor.

That flavor emerged soon after the May 14 general election, when Paetongtarn revealed her Mint Choc habit.

The youngest daughter of fugitive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been in self-imposed exile for more than a decade, said she regularly picked up a Mint Choc at ThinkLab Creative Space and Café in the same building as Pheu Thai Party headquarters.

Pheu Thai won 141 seats in the election, coming a close second to Move Forward Party with 151 seats.

In early June, Move Forward Party leader Pita Limcharoenrat dropped by ThinkLab and ordered a Choc Mint on his way to discuss forming a government coalition with Pheu Thai

Mint Choc quickly became a favorite among coalition politicians, though Srettha Thavisin, Paetongtarn’s rival as Pheu Thai PM candidate, publicly spurned the sweet drink in favor of a black coffee with no sugar. Srettha is now widely tipped as favorite to become the next prime minister after Pita’s bid was shot down in Parliament.

Toasting new alliance?

Since then, Pita has not been seen with the drink – but photos have emerged of Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul clinking his cup of Mint Choc with Pheu Thai Party leader Cholnan Srikaew. Bhumjaithai is a member of the outgoing military-backed coalition government whose parties were defeated in the election by the liberal reformist Move Forward.

Anutin said his party would be willing to join a Pheu Thai-led government if it dumps Move Forward. After Pita failed in his bid to form a new administration, the task was handed to Pheu Thai.

Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, leader of the outgoing coalition’s United Thai Nation Party was also seen merrily drinking Mint Choc alongside Cholnan last Saturday at ThinkLab.

“I like this flavor. I give it 10 out of 10,” Pirapan said of the drink, hinting at its political message.

The friendly chat over Mint Choc drinks among Bhumjaithai, United Thai Nation and Pheu Thai leaders has convinced Move Forward supporters that Pheu Thai is getting ready to switch sides.

Bann Pu Kan café announced that it would stop selling Mint Choc because it is now a “friend-betrayal beverage”.

Shinapat Kitlertsirivatana, United Thai Nation Party’s deputy spokesman, meanwhile, had a different take on Mint Choc but one that was likely to anger Move Forward supporters even more.

“It’s for people who have friends and embrace reconciliation,” he declared in a Facebook post on Monday along with a selfie in which he is proudly drinking the beverage.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk