He's slippery and elusive, but he doesn't live in Dubai, in case you wondered. He's different things to different people. Politicians, the military, the media and social media activists all proclaim to be on his side but he more or less mocks them all.
Yingluck Shinawatra promised the Thai public they would see him if she was given time. Prayut Chan-o-cha has made the same vow and the same plea. He’s still nowhere to be seen, however. And even if he does show up, many will doubt whether it’s really him.
For being everywhere and nowhere at the same time, for generating hope and exasperation all at once, for being a manipulative tool one minute and providing inspiration the next, and for making everyone flirt with hypocrisy, “Mr Reform” is my Person of the Year for 2014.
Forgive the abstract. Of course, my nomination is symbolic, but it keeps up with the trend of the past few years. Besides, gone are the days when just one man, or woman, could unilaterally affect other people’s lives. We have come to learn how the smallest things can influence the biggest pictures. No one man or woman can change the world on his or her own, so to speak.
So, who is this Mr Reform? Simply put, he’s a mystery. He’s the name on everybody’s lips in 2014, but nobody knows what he looks like. People have “ideas” about him, myself included, but all of them may miss the mark. To call him out is convenient; to really have him is extremely difficult.
We are promised he will make his bow next year. But then again, Yingluck’s giant billboards made a similar pledge towards the end of 2013, only for them to be ridiculed by one half of the country. Prayut’s reputed “coup song” indicating Mr Reform would be ushered in is in danger of ending up the same way. Mr Reform has a funny habit of embarrassing his “host” whenever the invitation is sent out.
We only saw flashes of him after the “People’s Constitution” was enacted in 1997. We thought, because the country had new rules, Mr Reform would be here to stay. We celebrated some electoral “yellow” and “red” cards and a couple of anti-corruption “successes”, but we should have known better. Mr Reform is a highly complicated person and even the most idealistic Constitution is never a sure-fire invitation card.
Now, here’s another intriguing thing about Mr Reform. Should he take a selfie, the screen would show either you or me. Yes, he lives inside all of us. Whether or not he will come out is up to us, not to him. Corny as it may sound, “Mr Reform” is a change of heart, a combination of remorse, guilt and sympathy. Grudges drive him away, as do hatred, anger, insincerity and ego.
We can come up with the best political rules in the world, but that alone won’t make Mr Reform appear. And he will vanish in a hurry if some people insist that it’s “the others” who need to be changed, not them. Mr Reform is sensitive, and he knows pretension when he sees it. Since he’s difficult to locate, impersonators roam wherever he’s expected to be. Mind you, some of them look pretty convincing.
Now you see him, now you don’t. Mr Reform is always called upon by those who think they know him. For a long time, his name was in danger of becoming full-blown rhetoric, but the past 14 months has been exceptional. Anti-government protesters wanted him. The government promised to invite him. Coup-makers made the same pledge. Councils, committees and forums debated how he’s supposed to look. The media, social media, part-time critics and lobbyists have all put their two cents in.
Will we ever see the real him? Again, that’s up to all of us, not any committee or forum or observers sent to Germany or France. Mr Reform will come out only when all Thais are ready, but if the past few years are any indication, we can’t call ourselves a good host, and being a good host is key to making him appear and stay.
But somehow and somewhere, he does exist, waiting and evaluating. Next year he will do more of the same, despite the “invitation” likely becoming more emphatic. He will dominate forums, editorials, the social media and wherever politicians are given microphones. When the draft of Thailand’s new Constitution is complete, the talk about him will reach fever pitch.
In 2013, he taunted. This year, he teased. And all the while he didn’t let himself be seen. Mr Reform has spent 2014 telling Thais they’ll have to try harder to find the love, sympathy and understanding that he embodies. Unless you find them, goes his message, you’ll never find me.