The Pending Resurrection of Thaksin Shinawatra

This post is a commentary for November 10th…

[T]oday the text burdens the image, loads it with a culture, a morality, an imagination; there used to be a reduction from text to image; today there is an amplification from one to the other; (Roland Barthes 1991: 15)

[T]he image is re-presentation, i.e., ultimately ressurrection” (Roland Barthes 1991: 21)

The subject I need to note, so as not to forget implementing into my dissertation, is the relevance of ‘in between’ spaces that I’ve noted in a previous blog post on Jacques Ranciere. Specifically, my question aims toward Ranciere’s work to ask what happens, when even multi-billionaire politicians are read in light of a certain kind of equality presupposed, or, more generally, if an individual removes themselves from a set of policies that have set out to determine what or who they are? After some re-referencing theories on the image, I came back to Roland Barthes—summarized in the above two epigraphs—because of the issue I’ll discuss below, about the return and subsequent resurrection of one man’s image. And in this sense, today is somewhat of a heated day for Thai politics, fueled by numerous media outlets—the local (Thai and English language dailies) versus the global (fuel of sacrilegious media commentary).

Thaksin is back in Southeast Asia, for the first time in while. In a sentence, his image and recent history is pinned between the September 19 2006 coup that ousted him from his democratically-elected position as Prime Minister (in the name of credible corruption allegations), and his subsequent exile abroad dodging frequent extradition attempts by the current Thai government. The Times (UK) has just released an interview, filled to capacity (12 pages) with Thaksin the provocateur’s controversial comments on monarchical reform, a hypothetical military strategy of leading soldiers from the northeast region of Thailand after crossing the border from Cambodia or Laos, and his classification of Thailand as a ‘failed state’. A flurry of heated local reactions sprawled across English and Thai newspapers this morning: the Democrats request—and approval—of a ban on the Times interview, Thaksin’s arrival in Cambodia to serve as an economic adviser to PM Hun Sen [during a time when the two countries are fighting over an the ancient Preah Vear on the border], the Thai PM’s withdrawal of Thailand’s ambassador to Cambodia, and one more issue that catches my attention above the others.

At Matichon’s website Thai PM Abhisit Wechachiwat asks, in response to the Times interview, “did he [Thaksin] really say those things” by which he meant “could he really have said those things” by which he was really skimming the issue as to whether any Thai authority, who hopes to have any future in Thai politics, could make such bold statements about the monarchy? It is like suicide, in that one has entered a point of no return without care for one’s image after death. These years in exile would send anyone, even the billionaire that Thaksin is, into a state of contemplation on death. In this sense, Thaksin’s return (if only to the region) is a form of resurrection—a post mortem manifestation of return. In the Times interview, Thaksin stepped into the future, toward a moment that hasn’t yet been considered by those still bent on whether yellow or red shirts, Democrats or People’s Party, royalists or republicans, will reconcile the viewpoints (see this post to review what I’m talking about here). For Thaksin, and for the media flurry that snows across borders this morning, the lens shuttles forward in time.

But while the media will focus on this transitional point upon which future resolutions and possibilities hinge, I’m still thinking about PM Abhisit’s question: how could a Thai person say those things? Privy counselor, the member and former PM Prem Tinsulanond who Thaksin blamed by Thaksin for swaying a ‘royal circle’ of insiders, developed the question by reducing it to a comment. “Today Thai people feel bad. (from Matichon’s website)” Thaksin, through his own exile, and via the national exclusion of oppositional spokespeople, remains in an in-between space. Since he is not simply Thai, he can operate as an advisor to regional countries while he can still wage bets on the future of Thailand. He can remain an international businessman spending 10 days per month floating across borders. He can, and has, divorce his wife undermining the perception of morality that dominates Thai politics. I have to acknowledge, that this is the one fact that endears Thaksin to his longtime critics (that include me). The possibility of a Thaksin in-between spaces is the possibility of an exception: an off-kilter sense of citizenship, a literal geographic separation from his center, and yet the continual need for the center to acknowledge his presence and visibility even at the margins. In short, Thaksin has moved beyond the norms of the present. These actions have moved the conversation to an undetermined and contingent image of the future. The Times interview was one manifestation, and the government’s attempt to ban the article or website will always be outpaced by instantaneous technologies of distribution. Someone will have already turned the article to a PDF and emailed it—or some server’s satellite is directed from another host country that beams the content across borders. But even the ban speaks to the reality of another space, somewhere and sometime, where some question exists. Ranciere would call this question the development of a ‘wrong’. PM Abhisit and Privy Councilor Prem’s were outpaced and short changed, resorting to the issues of fixed national identity and morality. Thaksin’s turn to the future made them look like dinosaurs.

So I’m thinking of what Ranciere has said about the conventions of politics being nothing more than a set of policies designed to police their own borders. Borders include a vocabulary, rules, approaches, or the very regulation of the design: of how one understands the story, discourse, the domain of proper speech (as in the case of this interview), and so on. And the reason for this ‘policing’[from the Thai gov.] is because the futurity of an image is always escaping the terms of a policy. The ‘wrong’ is a disagreement, based on a presupposition of equality—and this is the fundamental catalyst for the political, as Ranciere notes, designed to “confront the established order of identification and classification (Rancière 2004: 89)” or at least “the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within (12)” some larger order. The literal parallels, especially to Thaksin’s critique of Thailand’s conventional power structure are obvious. And this is what allows Thaksin, based upon a presupposition of equality (saying in the interview that he is “touchable”) from the institution he criticizes, saying it is God-like.

But in Thai politics, equality requires that you die and come back to life. I know this may appear as the standard in many countries, but this personal feature mirrors a reality at a larger dimension in countries experiencing the post-coup situation where the fall of one regime leads inevitably to mythologies of a new—and more purified—form. So when the “Opinion” headline of this morning’s Bangkok Post read “Thaksin may be digging his own grave” one realizes the author of this headline has, like Abhisit and Prem, arrived a bit late. Thaksin, the variable in between spaces, has already confronted and is well-aware of his death. What’s at stake are the terms of his resurrection.

Barthes, Roland. 1991. The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press. [This book is actually an extension of the previously published Music-Image-Text, reprinting five of its essays to give a context for the newer ones]

Rancière, Jacques. 1992. Politics, Identification, and Subjectivization. October 61 (Summer): 58-64.

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