Jul 02 2011
Tonight Thailand is girding its loins for tomorrow’s election. The ballots are printed, the posters stand at every intersection, and starting in a few hours, Thais (as well as your resident foreign correspondent) will be barred from buying alcohol or sharing their political opinions on Twitter or Facebook.
This month of campaigning has been fascinating to watch; Thailand is a complex place. An elementary observation, I know, but sometimes elementary things are also elemental; learning what’s not being said is as interesting as understanding what is in the Land of Smiles. Accessing primary source campaign materials can be tough if you don’t read Thai.
Internet to the rescue! Two excellent Thai-language resources have been doing interesting and witty translation work on Thai election posters: Women Learning Thai (not just for the Ladiez), and Tweet Yourself Thai. Tweet Yourself Thai has also been translating election tweets sent by the main candidates.
In this case, the primary source material is awesome:
This is the current prime minister on the left, who looks like a gassy Chinese baby in this poster. His campaign has been very unpopular. More in-depth analysis from Tweet Yourself Thai here and a summary about what the Yellow Shirts want here.
This is Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who is the controversial prime minister removed from office in a coup. She is basically a political unknown, and the fear is that she will be the puppet of Thaksin. She also has been dolled up like a flight attendant for this election. More in-depth analysis from Tweet Yourself Thai here and a good summary about what the Red Shirts want here.
This man, Chewit, is running for parliament on the platform that he has to pay so many bribes as the owner of a chain of “massage” parlours and he’s sick of it. His campaign posters are hilarious. He is by far Thailand’s most entertaining politician.
The “Vote No” animal campaign is the most creative use of language, culture, and political angling I’ve ever seen. Each of the animals the creators chose embodies traits in Thai culture that are considered undesirable: water buffalo are stupid (this is a common slur used against people from the countryside), tigers take what they’re not entitled to, monkeys are tricky, dogs fight, crocodiles are sly troublemakers, and monitor lizards are considered very toxically unlucky (think a black cat crossing your path on Friday the 13th while spilling salt and stepping on cracks and breaking mirrors, simultaneously).
Even common sayings are incorporated with animals dressed as politicians, the tiger in Democrat Blue, and the crocodile in Pheu Thai Red: flee the tiger, meet the crocodile reads the text. Out of the frying pan, and into the fire. Let’s hope the fires are burning low for tomorrow’s election.
The point of the campaign is less creative, however. Funded by
the ruling Democrat Party the right-wing People’s Alliance for Democracy and a religious party called Santi Asoke, it encourages Thais (who are required to vote by law) to spoil their ballots in an attempt to create either a constitutional crisis where a quorum is not met in the election and it is considered invalid so a caretaker government needs to be formed. Even if it is a campaign spoiler, it’s a very creative and culturally interesting use of language. More in-depth explanation available here.
Word to the wise: if you are out and about in Bangkok Sunday after the election, election posters are up for grabs, as they are required to be removed by their sponsoring parties by midnight. Free souvenirs! “Look ma, I got you a poster of a dog wearing a suit!”
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