The three-finger salute and what Jatuporn said
The key gesture of anti-government protesters apparently came from a Hollywood hit, the Hunger Games trilogy. However, the fictional ending and what red-shirted leader Jatuporn Prompan bemoaned last week carry strikingly similar warnings, and the rebellious Thai movement should take heed if it really cares.
The trilogy ends with the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, killing the rebel leader, who she was afraid would turn into a new dictator. Jatuporn, meanwhile, has come out to warn those adopting the three-finger salute as a form of defiance that if they don’t tolerate opinions they don’t like, the fighters would be no different from those they proclaim to fight against.
When Katniss let fly her arrow on a human target for the last time, it didn’t free the “enslaved” people; it sought to prevent future enslavement, future intolerance of “rival opinions”, be it of the majority or minority. She feared a new dictator would be born, and coincidentally Jatuporn has mentioned “a new breed of dictatorship” if those fighting for “democracy” are not careful.
A lot of people ignored the trilogy’s meaningful ending, and romanticized the preceding rebellion too much. The uprising consumed about 80 per cent of the story whereas post-rebellion lasted about 15 minutes, but the warning message was resounding. It reminded many of what is happening in Thailand, where celebrities “on the other side” have been harassed online and had their projected incomes threatened by vows to boycott products that support them, and where disliked opinions have been contemptuously belittled or openly condemned.
The Thai atmosphere is threatening a charter amendment drive, which most people support, albeit with different conditions. Even the chronically anti-military Pheu Thai Party, which is supportive of the highly unorthodox idea to set up a Constitution drafting assembly, has been chastised by protesters for not going after the Senate right away. In fact, Jatuporn was motivated by the anti-Pheu Thai bashing when he warned against a new kind of dictatorship.
According to Jatuporn, it is all right for dictators to seek to destroy or suppress opposite or different opinions because it’s what they do. But it’s not democratic, he says, if minority or unpopular opinions are condemned, insulted or forced to undergo changes.
The Prayut government’s problem started with the conflicts within the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, signaling disunity and old-fashioned politicking at a time when the pandemic-besieged country needed anything but. Then the “VIP scandal” related to Covid-19 quarantine gave protests justification, and the Red Bull heir case inflamed the situation. The embattled administration will not be helped by the resignation this week of Finance Minister Pridi Daochai.
While not all the issues can be blamed on “dictatorship” and portray a country in need of “liberation”, they have given the charter amendment push a sound momentum. The issue now is not whether the Constitution can be amended, but whether those clamoring for changes do want a society where minority or different opinions are respected, if not deservedly and thoroughly acted upon.
The momentum is not as strong as before, a situation that may either reduce aggression or, on the contrary, feed extremism. Jatuporn, who himself used to lead street protests that ended bloodily, knows a thing or two about rebellion. That’s why his warning that overblown demands or action can lead to nasty incidents which could set the clock back when freedom is concerned has to be taken seriously.
The ending of the Hunger Games trilogy shows that while getting power is hard, using it responsibly is a lot harder. It also suggests it is possible that political ideals can be abused by those seeking to exploit or manipulate others. “We both have been played for fools” is among the strongest quotes coming out of the story.
They often say life imitates art. The prolonged Thai trouble requires that the former learns from the latter.
By Tulsathit Taptim