Enter the sorcerer

25 March 2006 | Permalink

I hadn't realized how much more inventive Thai conspiracy theories are than Western ones. Following the destruction of the Brahma statue at the Erawan Shrine, A., our man in Bangkok, has been feeding M. the latest rumors from Thailand, most of which are about the Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

A lot of Western conspiracy theories start from the idea that the people in power are exploiting their position to enrich themselves, their business associates, their friends and their family. In Thailand, where most people assume as a matter of course that every significant government decision is designed to benefit the prime minister, Shinawatra Group companies, Thaksin's business cronies and his extensive family, such theories don't seem very daring.

So instead of money, they deal with magic. Thaksin, so the rumor goes, has employed a Khmer sorcerer from Buri Ram (the best sorcerers are always foreign, of course: when I was in South Africa a few years ago, the walls were papered with handbills advertising the services of sangomas from Burundi and points beyond). This is presumably in addition to the 'mad astrologers' who are already said to shape government policy. Another rumor has it that Thaksin orchestrated the destruction of the Brahma statue at Erawan so that he could conceal various personal items inside the replacement statue: when the faithful kneel to pray, they will actually be praying to the prime minister. The most sinister variant — proposed by an opposition politician — claims that the destruction of the statue and the subsequent murder of the perpetrator was actually a complex human sacrifice engineered by Thaksin as a way of gaining some occult advantage.

It's starting to look as if he needs all the advantages he can get. Forensic pathologist Pornthip Rojanasunand is asking difficult questions about three hundred unidentified bodies found in a mass grave in Pattani, and human rights lawyers are discussing whether Thaksin can be tried by the ICJ over the Tak Bai massacre. Meanwhile, anti-Thaksin protests are continuing in Bangkok, with three days of demonstrations scheduled.

Protests so far have been surprisingly peaceful. One final rumor — my favorite so far — claims that when Thaksin asked the army to consider declaring a state of emergency after the first round of protests, the top general instead said that he would be calling the Guinness Book of Records to see if the demonstration qualified as the longest peaceful anti-government protest with no arrests!