Writer and Illustration: Karuna Tilapaynat
A: “No skytrain back at your hometown, huh? …Took y’all here to see it. Like it?”
B: “Yes, sir.”
A: “Would you come again?”
B: “If it’s an order, yes, sir.”
Above was a disdainful conversation disguised as a light-hearted tease between the Police Chief Commander and an officer from outside of Bangkok, which took place right after the crackdown on the mass protest at Patumwan intersection. Contrasting with the rage of the pro-democracy protesters, such a tone-deaf conversation eventually lead to the viral joke online: “Don’t you have a skytrain at home?”
This is just one example that demonstrates Thailand’s issue with inequality, a result from the state’s heavy emphasis on centralisation, both in terms of power and the economics. If I were to mention all the consequential problems, this article could perhaps be endless.
When the centralisation of power is so concentrated in the capital that we question the state itself, what can we do to decentralise such power? Move the capital to a new city? But moving is just transferring the power to another centre! My friend once asked me:
“Given the news that Bangkok will drown in our lifetime, if we were to move the capital city, where would it be?”
“Can’t all cities be the capital?”
My answer may sound fanciful, even impossible. It seems like an ideal, a utopia, as opposed to the popular and current governance we all know. But instead I found the question very interesting because it spoke to a time back when there was no country, no state, no capital.
To imagine a governance without the capital may seem impossible in reality. However, many countries are characterized by the lack of the capital city, from small countries that are city-states like Singapore, the Vatican, and Monaco, to countries with no cities due to the small number of population like Nauru, and Tuvalu. The aforementioned countries are of specific qualities, whether that be the size of the country or the population. Nevertheless, Switzerland has no official capital city. Switzerland distinguishes itself from the other aforementioned examples as it has a relatively large size and population.
“Abolish the capital” may sound dubious. Why abolish it? For what? To what end? To be honest, I don’t know where the answer to this question will lead, but I’m interested in testing the bounds of what’s common sense, normal or possible, so as to spark conversations on both the problems and the benefits, amidst this current moment in Thailand where so many are advocating for a better future.
“For people to be equal, cities must also be treated equally.”
Writer: Pathompong Kwangtong
Today, a writer submitted the above short article to Din Deng. The writer said himself that there is no concrete answer to the question he raised at the end. Nevertheless, I still think the article did answer the question, at least partly.
If you follow us online (and speak Thai) you would have seen our post with a picture of a huge sign: “Abolish the Capital.” Such was the boldness of this slogan, so new to our discourse, that the police didn’t even know how to handle the situation. It was unlike when there were discussions around the monarchy. Then, the government did not allow any dissent. What was different about this message was perhaps that because people had never even thought of such a topic, let alone its consequences. Between the topics of “abolish the capital” and “a communal society,” while both seem to be impossible, the latter had already failed miserably in the 20th century. The former was never mentioned.
At least, in our beautiful country of Thailand, the “Republic of Thailand” is a topic deemed intolerable to the ruling class who enjoys the benefits of this centralised unitary state, as the question challenges the sanctity of the central power, established towards the end of the absolute monarchy, and solidified, almost absolutely, during the anti-communist civil war. The republic is a common form of governance. As such, it doesn’t use too many of the ruling class’s brain cells to imagine its practice and possible consequences, resulting in fear, panic, and an urgent need to control.
However, the call to abolish the capital is different. It is not a phenomenon, demand, or a mainstream movement. Unlike the change in the form of governance or secession, the call to abolish the capital is to radically question how we might live collectively in a large society, rather than to present itself as a political project that is obvious and immediately possible. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the writer’s tone does not sound like a mobilization; nor is it confident in its proposals to work with the issue promptly. To abolish the capital may sound absurd or even compromising.
But then again, I do not think what the writer proposes is completely impossible. Instead, as someone who admires the collective life of the Rojava, I find this proposal compelling, albeit still skeletons of structure, in need of flesh and organs. It could be a transitional project towards other forms of societies. Or it could be a political project aiming to gently liberate all of us, alleviating the pain derived from the state’s centralisation, and functions as a channel to discuss novel forms of society in which the state could not silence us with its wrongful might.
Finally, I would like to amplify the writer’s invitation. Whether you agree or disagree, contemplate, share, talk about it online or offline with your friends, and demonstrate the power of the people to the ruling class, who can never draw all the blood and sweat of our labour only to fuel the skytrain close to their home.