We’ve heard from the officials, politicians and pundits.
With three days left before polls open, let’s consider the charter referendum’s significance in the greater national story.
For that narrative, we turned to several top artists, filmmakers and writers with one question: If the referendum were a story, which would it be?
Here’s what they said.
In Movies …
The Shawshank Redemption
Winyu “John” Wongsurawat is one-half of the immensely popular online satire show “Shallow News in Depth” or “Jor Khao Tuen.”
For the film which best reflects today, John chose 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption,” saying the public is the film’s Tim Robbins, a banker sentenced to life for murdering his wife and her lover despite professing his innocence.
“The main protagonist … represents the people who have done nothing wrong but are imprisoned by the authorities,” John said. “The tragic part is that the time lost during this period cannot be regained. He’s among those who fall victims in society, but when the right time comes, he’ll stand up and liberate himself.”
He said the two can be linked by a “submission to injustice.”
“The referendum is just a fragment revealing how the authorities exercise their power,” John said. “Still, the movie’s main idea reflects people’s submission to injustice. Society is supposed to operate under the principle of rule of law, however, we’re ruled by laws under the current authoritarians, who make up new laws to serve their purposes.”
Like the film, he hopes the story ends with some measure of justice.
“I truly hope that one day we’ll be free from this vicious cycle, and that also the wrongdoers will be punished, which is a rare occurrence in Thailand,” said the the 30-year-old host.
The Lord of the Rings
‘One Ring to rule them all.
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.’
J.R. R. Tolkien’s precious trilogy retold at the millennium’s turn by Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings, was chosen by prolific performance artist Teerawat “Ka-ge” Mulvilai.
The B-Floor Theater director known for politically provocative works said it makes sense, given the referendum’s contents and slow burn.
“Article 44 is like the Dark Lord Sauron controlling people with his ‘Evil Eye’ surveillance, which can spot any action against him,” Ka-ge said. “The ring is similar to the constitution or referendum, and conceals a dark power. Once you try it, you’ll be under its charm.”
Running with it, Ka-ge went on to compare activists to hobbits and the military to the Ringwraiths held under the dark lord’s thrall. He’s obviously intimately familiar with Tolkien’s rich world.
“However, once people realize the ring’s evil, they try to destroy it like the Vote No allies such as [the New Democracy Movement] that try to warn people of its harm. However, every time they try to speak up, the Nazgul will try to shut them up.
“The superior and beautiful beings such as the elves are ignorant and try to be neutral, but some nonconformists see the effect of what’s happening in the world and decide to join forces with the Fellowship,” he said. “Or Arwen, who gives up her immortality to be with the love of her life. On the contrary, there’s someone who loves the ring dearly and can die for it, like Gollum.
“In creating such a powerful ring, are we giving extreme authority to someone? Isn’t this One Ring in fact made for just one person to wear, after all? The ring should be forged into 60 million pieces, so that everyone is given equal power and voice, not just letting someone hold the reins.”
The Purge: Election Year
The dystopian America of 2016’s “The Purge: Election Year” was the most obvious choice for documentary filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol. The movie franchise, now in its third bloody installment, is about an annual 12-hour period during which all crimes are legal.
“I’ve just watched the movie and found some similar logic structure in our current political situation,” Nontawat said. “I think the main challenge of democracy in Thailand is that we don’t respect international norms and instead strictly adhere to abstractions, such as virtue and morality.”
“After the introduction of democracy in 1932, situations similar to [the film] frequently occur: The exercise of power and violence, which leads to the killing of fellow citizens or other illegal acts in one day, which cannot be legally prosecuted,” said the 33-year-old director.
Or, even less metaphorically:
“The Ancien Regime tries to draft a law to make their people subservient and maintain their power,” he said. “Although it’s illegal in reality, they try to legalize it, which leads to repression and a class gap in society.”
In Books …
For a dance artist and choreographer who provokes the old guard with contemporary interpretations of traditional dance, Pichet Klunchun insists nothing less than the national epic of Ramakien can explain the referendum.
A localized retelling of the Hindu Ramayana, Ramakien focuses on Phra Ram (Rama), an incarnation of Vishnu, and his ultimate battle with evil in the form of Demon King Thotsakan, a story in the DNA of all Thai narrative (Spoiler alert: Good conquers evil).
“The Ramakien is similar to the upcoming referendum, as it cannot be criticized,” said Pichet, whose own works have taken divergent approaches in retelling the national fable. “The epic is written ideally and unrealistically, as all characters are divine. Those deities warred and raged in the past about things mundane people have nothing to do with, but still they are taken as pawns.”
In the Weimar Republic
For his take, author Panu Trivej turns to his latest work of nonfiction, “In the Weimar Republic,” as an appropriate match.
“The atmosphere of Thai society now recalls, to me, Germany, 80 years ago,” Panu said, referring to the short-lived, democratic German state from 1919 to 1933.
“People in that period were introduced to the democratic spirit for the first time and realized that people could think differently and talk about it. And the best system for people to raise their voice is democracy,” said the 35-year-old writer, who researched the topic five years. “Similarly, many Thais weren’t familiar with democracy before and have to encounter it for the first time.”
Panu closed with a plug for his book.
“You might understand the current Thai political situation better if you read the book,” he said.
In Music …
If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next
‘If I can shoot rabbits / then I can shoot fascists’
Pondering the referendum, Chiang Mai writer Jirat Prasertsup, a 2015 SEA Write Award shortlister, finds a perfect match in the Manic Street Preachers’ 1998 challenge to the status quo, “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.”
“I view the referendum as a tool to legitimize the junta’s rule,” Jirat said. “In the past months, if you’re not so ignorant, you must see many situations that reflect the current government’s attempt to coerce people’s opinion toward the referendum and how they handle those who disagree.”
Jirat, 31, was aware of the rock song’s historical origins.
“Actually, the band’s inspiration for the song comes from a slogan of a left-wing brigade fighting against [Francisco] Franco’s military rebels during the Spanish Civil War. But when putting the song into the Thai context, I think the song works very well.”