The show must go on, and we must suffer it
All over the world, Cirque de Soleil is known as one of the greatest circus companies. It lives up to expectations, with its dramatic and stunning mix of traditional circus arts and street entertainment. Few spectators would ever say that the company has dashed their expectations.A different kind of circus is now on show in Bangkok, with a company of nearly 30, some five of them given leading roles. This is the gubernatorial election circus, and the campaign managers are saying on billboards: "Bring your children to this show. You won't be disappointed!"
Well, it is easy to boast about a show before it starts. But it is difficult to satisfy all in the audience, particularly when the audience has no idea how the show will unfold. Day in, day out, Bangkokians are bombarded by the performers' self-advertising.
Under the theme of "Let's make the city more liveable", these "artists" try to seduce you with:
"I will ride a bike to the office every day if I get elected." (Why didn't he just start on that particular day?)
"I will ride a bike to the polling booth on election day." (And after that?)
"I will increase the number of roads with bike lanes from 20 to 30." (All the bike lanes to be turned into parking spaces or markets?)
"I will make sure all public transport means have room for bikes." (Hmm, that would be possible only when the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority is invited to join the show.)
"I will cut down crime in the city." (With dummy CCTV cameras or with more police officers who are reporting to someone else?)
Some performers ride on public buses and garbage trucks to woo the audience.
All of this usually happens before an election circus starts, at the national or city level. Once they are in the troupe, the performers have nothing to do but advertise themselves. That's what they do for a living, while their managers calculate bills and ticket prices.
A circus will also perform in New York this year, and its performers have also started advertising. Michael Bloomberg, the star of the show, is retiring, and six contenders are now vying to take his place. Christine Quinn proposes affordable housing in the city through tax cuts for landlords, and planned taxes on traffic congestion. Bill de Blasio wants to tax all rich people, while John Catsimatidis wants to "save education" by entrenching a two-tier system where "failing" students get shunted into vocation systems, because they are too scared of calculus or something.
Being the star means a lot. In New York, he or she has taxation powers, rules over the police, and presides over planning and development in the business capital of the world. In New York, he or she is the one to neutralise changes introduced by the inclusion of new members of many nationalities (56 per cent of the people who voted in the 1989 mayoral election were non-Hispanic white; that percentage dropped to 46 per cent in 2009 and is likely to be 45 per cent or below in 2013.)
In Bangkok, power is much more limited. In a city that covers 1,500 square kilometres, public buses are regulated by the Transport Ministry, while the Metropolitan Police is under the Interior Ministry. When the troupe's leader has a say over the opening of sluice gates (as we saw in 2011), the city still needs help from the national government (like the millions of sandbags we also saw in 2011.)
Though the scale is much smaller, everyone wants to be a star. Suharit Siamwalla spent hundreds of thousands of baht on his campaign; and amount spent for toy cars for his son. He devoted his free time on the campaign and he admitted that in the first three days after he joined the race, he was overwhelmed by the number of interviews, up to to 11.30pm each day.
All the performers spend days and nights wandering around places they have rarely been seen before, and come up with more and more promises.
An underdog like Waranchai Chokechana has had to chase for opportunities to speak about his plans. When learning about Nation Forum#7, he called us to ask if he could be one of the speakers. He showed up last Saturday at the event, to find that the forum's focus was on the use of social media in the campaign. No offence, the old man doesn't look like the sort who is familiar with Facebook or Twitter. He scribbled notes but didn't have the chance to take the stage.
It will be interesting to see how many people turn up at the March 3 show. According to Dusit Poll, 15 per cent of respondents planned to show up on the day, expecting that their say would influence improvements in the show.
In the course of the next four years, we will find out if the show lives up to our expectations or will be just another disappointment.