Ammart and prai, The facebook war
Published: 15/05/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
If you're a Pheu Thai party candidate for parliament, you're likely to carry three mobile phones at all times.
One is for the people to reach you. After all, you must be a man (or woman) of the people, accessible at all times. One is for personal use, because everyone has got to have a personal life.
One must be an iPhone, because it is best for video conferencing. This is so that Thaksin Shinawatra can reach you at all times, to guide and inspire you in your campaign for a seat in parliament and ultimately to bring him back to rule Thailand.
If you're a Democrat Party candidate, your name cards and posters must provide your Twitter and Facebook information. A party directive has it that the Democrats must conquer the online world, and thus all candidates must go high-tech.
This has caused a bit of a problem for older MP hopefuls. When he typed in his Facebook password, one aged candidate panicked, thinking something was wrong with the computer. He called his aides, crying, ''Where are the letters? Why did only ***** appear on the screen?'' There was a minor commotion.
Nonetheless, the Democrats are well ahead of the cyber game.
At last check, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had over 600,000 fans on his Facebook page. Thaksin has only 71,000-plus. The Democrat Party fan page has over 15,000 ''likes'', while Pheu Thai's fan page has only 5,600-plus.
But really, how many of the so-called prai are actually going online? In the streets is where it counts.
If you're a candidate for either the Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party or the Chart Thai Pattana Party, you might want to change the party name. This is because it's a bit confusing for the rest of us. Luckily for you, you are likely to become famous anyway, as both parties have recruited star athletes onto their tickets.
If you're a Bhumjaithai Party candidate, you don't have to worry about a thing _ Newin Chidchob is taking care of business. He always does.
Parliament has been dissolved and the elections will be held on July 3. Already, stories both comic and tragic are growing in this electoral rice field, as if steroids have been planted in the paddies.
Stories of vote-buying and other ''irregularities'' are in abundance. The most dramatic of these was the attempted assassination of former Samut Prakan MP from Pheu Thai party, Pracha Prasopdee.
But perhaps the most interesting pre-election tale of all thus far, at least to this writer, has its origins in the totally chic, utterly posh ammart neighborhood of Thong Lor last Saturday, May 7.
This is a story of the ammart who ran into the prai at a trendy restaurant. This is the story of Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and the wife, and UDD leader Natthawut Saikua and the family.
At home after dinner, Mr Korn mused on his Facebook page about how the lifestyle of someone who calls himself prai seems little different from that of someone he refers to as ammart. After all, they were dining at the same restaurant.
When he learned of the comment, Natthawut vented his anger on his Facebook page. ''How dare you,'' he blasted. ''Are we prai so stupid,'' he lamented. ''Must we prai be poor,'' he wailed. ''Are we not allowed to eat in the same restaurant as you,'' he moaned. ''The people will rise,'' he threatened.
The finance minister then updated his Facebook comment with something diplomatic, as a politician would. However, his wife posted on her Facebook page something about the ammart sharing a Thai beer, as the prai enjoyed expensive wine with the wife, while the nanny looked after their baby.
Let's not pretend otherwise, there's venom in that.
It was all over Facebook and cyberspace. The ammart fans took their side and the prai took theirs. There were arguments and insults all around.
Let's be honest, the finance minister was being cheeky with his first post. If you studied in England and did not learn the art of sarcasm, your education would have been wasted.
Then Natthawut overreacted, as if he were the minister of culture, turning a jab into a ballistic missile attack. But then, he had been sitting in prison for several months. The man is perhaps still stressed. Who wouldn't be?
The issue is this: What is a prai?
Prai, as we know it, refers to the peasantry, the poor, working class. However, the red shirt UDD is arguing for a new definition. Prai need not be poor, they say. Prai can have money, they insist. Prai are only prai in that they don't have the power, they say.
At the Ratchaprasong occupation last year, I saw both kinds of prai. The sort that hung out around the broken-down pickup trucks and 10-wheelers made almost entirely of wood. Then there were the sort that sat in nice tents surrounded by Mercedes Benz, BMWs, Audis and the like.
So why not? Some prai are rich and most are poor _ it's just life. The point is they don't have the political power. Fair enough. The biggest prai of them all, Thaksin, is richer than 100 ammart put together, at least. And he's proud to call himself prai, robbed of power.
But this line of thinking raises some questions. Does this mean that six years ago, Thaksin and all his supporters were the ammart? Does this mean that six years ago, Korn Chatikavanij and Abhisit Vejjajiva were prai? Does this mean that in two months, the two Oxford men may become prai again? Can anyone imagine them as prai?
Semantic paradox, isn't it? But it's not only confusing _ this game of words serves to divide.
The Facebook world was split over the restaurant incident, one side supporting the ammart and the other backing the prai. They spewed anger at each other. All this was because of a sarcastic jab and overreaction to the terms ammart and prai.
The incident, minor and comical though it may be, just goes to show how fragmented Thai society is, and more importantly, how ready we are to be at each others' throats.
Some media pundits say we must stop using the words ammart and prai because they are dividing us. I disagree. Why fear words? Why run from labels? Why hide from semantics? We control them, don't let them control us.
Fear comes from suspicion. Suspicion comes from hatred. Hatred comes from fear. So let's make like Mr Korn and jab. Let's make observations and have a rollicking good laugh at the human condition.
Let the ammart poke fun at the prai, but not before laughing at themselves. Let the prai make fun of the ammart, but not before laughing at themselves. Let everyone have a jolly old jab at one another, because in the end laughter is the best medicine for reconciliation.
Go on YouTube and find the clip on President Barack Obama's White House correspondents' dinner, and you'll see. True, the left and the right in the US will never reconcile, but they don't shoot at each other in the streets either, because in the end, there's one commonality that people recognise and appreciate _ the love for one's country and freedom, even if the visions are different.
As long as we are anal about labels, we'll always be overly sensitive and reactionary, and that's a sure formula for hatred and conflict. The goodness of this world is created by an open heart and an open mind, with a bit of a smile.
For the past two years, anyone who knows me can tell you ammart and prai have been my favourite targets for jokes. They have given me much laughter; and consequently these terms to me are of no matter. We all are just people, with virtues and flaws.
There will always be those with money and those without. There will always be those with more power than others. And power always shifts and changes hands.
But at the end of the day _ whether you're ammart, prai or Honda Civic-driving middle class writer, part-time teacher, occasional guest speaker and hopeless dreamer _ each and every one of us can go to the voting booth on July 3 and exercise the most important power we have as citizens of the Kingdom of Thailand _ and in that, we all have the same power