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In defence of great 'national art'

In removing State Railway of Thailand chief Prapat Chongsa-nguan, the junta has put a great practitioner of a national art form to the sword. It remains to be seen, however, if we Thais can develop a new culture wherein voluntary resignation is the best and foremost option when things go wrong under our noses. True art, after all, can't be altered or made to disappear too easily.

We are the masters of staying put. We have perfected the art of refusing to quit even when everybody else wants us to. It has taken us a long time to get here, so if you think resigning to "show responsibility" is difficult, wake up. It's a lot harder to brave deafening calls for our heads and walk on. Those sorry Japanese and South Korean quitters have chosen an easy way out and are getting praise for it. What infamy!

Putting on a solemn face and declaring "I'm out" is a piece of cake. It's a one-day act after which you can go to the beach and nobody will notice it. Our national art is a lot more elaborate and, many may say, more passionate. Not to mention that a lot of skills are required.

First, we need to show a sorrowful expression when reacting to something bad that seems related to our responsibility. How hard is that, you wonder. Very hard, because we need to look forlorn enough to show that we care, but at the same time not so much that we will fall into the "Then quit" trap. In other words, we have to look sad but at the same keep a reasonable distance between ourselves and the problems.

It's an extremely delicate matter. On the one hand, we are the captain of a ship, but on the other hand, there is no way we can know what screws are loose and what knots are not properly tied. Of course, we are in charge but critics have to grow some common sense. Should we blame God for every killer who roams the earth? There, you've got it.

Then, we choose one of the classic lines that have been effectively uttered by the legendary artists before us. If we are politicians, "It's a conspiracy against me" will do. If we oversee a state-run organisation, say that it will be better off if we stay, that we have solutions in mind to the problems that nobody know about and it will simply go to waste if we have to leave. All the while we have to make it sound not self-centred, regardless of what the truth is.

It's quite tricky and strenuous, isn't it? Imagine, you have to do all that day in and day out with everyone constantly showing you newspaper editorials asking for your resignation. Imagine, you have to cancel a trip or trips to Europe; imagine windsurfing at the beaches is a no-no for God knows how long; imagine you have to go offline for weeks and in the meantime tell your teary-eyed children every day that people often "overreact" on Facebook.

So much for the misery. Art is not just about pain after all. The beauty of it is that we can even turn it around if we do it right. We can seek more funds to prevent the "misfortunes" from happening again. We can demand more manpower. We can even wrest greater control claiming, for example, that the problems were caused by red tape, which resulted in some blind spots.

Yet to be the real masters of the art, there's one last step to take. If we are blamed for, say, widespread corruption, let's launch an anti-graft campaign and go crazy with street billboards, newspaper ads and TV commercials. If we are taken to task for lax safety arrangements, we can spearhead a public awareness drive. If we oversee national education that is falling behind those of our poorer neighbours, we can hold seminars and training programmes and get extra financial support from the state in the process.

As you can see, this national art is not just about holding onto your post for dear life. It's also about transforming from a potential villain to a hero. Timing has to be precise. Comments have to be spot-on. Patience has to be in abundance. Arrogance, tolerance and humility have to blend perfectly. The National Council for Peace and Order, for its drastic response to the gruesome crime on a train, may have done Thailand a major disservice because it has undermined something that Thais, for once, do better than most people on the planet.


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