14th February is Valentine's
Day. On this day for winning hearts, protesters remain in the streets of Bangkok.
There has been another push from protester leaders to call the masses into the
streets to support their anti-government demonstrations.
In war, politics
and love winning the hearts and minds separates the victors from the vanquished.
I find significance in the traditional word ordering of the phrase. Start with
the heart, and the mind will follow. Straight from Hume and every modern psychologists
led by Daniel Kahneman. If you can emotionally involve another person the hard
battle is won. The mind simply fills in the justification for the heart's decision.
The hearts and
minds drama is being played out in the streets of Bangkok. It also has a psych
ops patterns worth exploring. If one were clever and devious enough, the best
line of attack would be to undermine the populist programs of the Government
by turning the recipients of the populist programs against the Government.
Let's talk about
Thailand's rice farmers. Any psych ops that would win the hearts of rice farmers
might represent a political turning point. This is an interesting story. A brief
summary: The vast bulk of rice farmers live in the Northeast and North of Thailand.
They are loyal supporters of the Government. The Government draws support from
the Reds. The Red movement is committed to representative democracy and elections.
Since the election of Thaksin Shinawattra in 2001, rice farmers have voted in
super majorities for members of his political party.
The current political
turmoil finds his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawattra, who led her party
to the polls on 2nd February, and who has faced months of unrest led by ex-MPs
of the Democrat Party, who resigned and took to the streets to lead protestors
to bring down the Government. The protesters have used various means in their
struggle---blocked road, cut electricity and water to government offices, blocked
polling stations, 'arrested' and beat up people, threatened kidnapping of the
prime minister's son, and ten people have been killed and hundreds injured in
violent incidents related to the anti-government protests.
The protest leaders
have shifted their reason for attacking the Government from an ill-conceived
amnesty bill, and the allegedly illegal attempts to amend the Constitution (the
Government wanted a fully elected as opposed to a half-elected, half-appointed
Senate) and the usual standby---corruption. The leaders have had their bank
accounts frozen by a government agency. They have marched around Bangkok gathering
'donations' to support their protest.
So far the protesters,
looking at the dwindling numbers in the streets (sometimes a handful) are not
winning hearts and minds of their fellow Thais. But they have a new idea. Having
effectively reduced the authority of the caretaker government, it isn't surprising
problems are arising. Such as payments which are now due to rice farmers under
a controversial rice subsidy scheme, which by all accounts is riddled with problems,
including allegations of mismanagement and corruption. The protesters having
closed down the ability of the Government to pay the farmers, now blames the
Government for failing to deliver the payments. The protesters have powerful
allies. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is expected to bring
formal charges against the caretaker Prime Minister for her role in the rice-pledging
The message is
being spread that this heartless Government you voted for is letting you down.
They created a bad program. The local English language newspapers, which are
heavily anti-government, run stories of rice farmers committing suicide over
money worries. They show 500 rice farmers who have come to Bangkok to complain
to the government.
have a new message that goes something along these lines:
your friend. Your friends pay you. This Government is a false friend. Voting
and democracy are unreliable. They cheat you.
If your heart is
in democracy, you will only be disappointed.
Join us. Sing with
us. Come to our picnics and nightly concerts. Happy Valentine's Day, rice farmers,
we love you! Wait for the new T-shirts we've ordered.
Even though we
called you water buffalo and said you were stupid last month, that was last
month, forget about that. This month, we are your friend, and your savior.
In fact, the objective
appears to be an old fashioned psych ops plan to sow the seeds of discontent
and doubt in the hearts of rice farmers. It is a cynical ploy (but brilliant
at the same time) and given the track record of Bangkok's elite caring about
the 'heart' of rice farmers, the chances are high that it won't work.
Still the pitch
is being made that if the rice farmers would only return to the traditional
Thai values, their betters in Bangkok will take care of them. Just like they
always have. People in Bangkok had given ten or twenty million baht in cash
handouts to the protest leader who then as the 'big faced man' gives it to grateful
rice farmers. That's a photo op anyone heading this psycho op will frame and
put on his wall.
There are several
problems with this approach. It assumes that rice farmers can't see through
the endgame, which is to discredit populist programs, and the Government that
sponsors populist programs. At the heart of this Valentine's Day message from
the demonstration in the street is one that the protesters and their allies
are the one with a true heart. Given the outstanding amount owed under the rice
subsidy scheme is in the billions, and the donations in Bangkok handed to a
protest leader are a rounding off error in the larger scheme of this mountain
of debt doesn't matter.
What does matter
in this coded message, sent over the head of the democratically elected government
to their main rural constituency that continues to return them to office no
matter how many times the elites ban their party and leaders, is that democracy
lacks the traditional Thai heart. Walk away from democracy like you'd walk away
from an abusive lover. That true Thai heart is found in the ancient concept
of kreng jai system, where the good people aren't elected (a concept that can
go so very wrong) but are known by their rank, position, name and status. They
decide what is right, moral, fair and just. Trust them. Trust their heart---their
nam jai, 'water heart'. They have shown their good intentions by collecting
donations for them. Has the government done that?
Here's their story:
Heartless government. Overflowing heart of protesters.
The battle of hearts
and minds of Thailand's rural voters will continue. The idea is these donations
to rice farmers will pay several dividends., The rice farmers are then expected
to return a respectful wai of gratitude for the handout and more importantly
will turn their back on the unreliable Government and democracy. It remains
to be seen whether this will happen. I suspect that very few people who labour
in the rice fields of the North or Northeast are betting the farm on the protesters
looking after their long-term interest. The seeds of democracy have been planted
and yielded too many good crops for the supporters to return to the days of
waiting for a coin to be dropped in their rice bowl.