My taxi driver is speaking rapidly and heatedly. I know exactly what set him off. But I'm still surprised by it.
I had asked my mom, who is from Bangkok, about some of the campaign posters for Thailand's upcoming general election. The roadsides are crammed full of them right now. Some are funny, like the one in the middle of this picture of an older man holding a baby. It's a riff on the Mark Twain quote, "Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often."
My mom's explanation of another poster also dropped a famous name: Thaksin. As soon as those two syllables left her mouth, I knew we had just steered into testy political territory. Our taxi driver immediately looked back at her in the rear-view mirror and launched into a fierce debate. I tried to change the subject... but could only come up with "The Hangover II."
The sign that caught my eye showed a water buffalo wearing a suit. (For pictures, click here.) The poster essentially says, don't let animals into parliament; vote no. Some show other animals, but they're all on a bright yellow background. They have been put up by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), also known as the Yellow Shirts.
Some might find that surprising, since the PAD sit-in of 2008 helped bring the current prime minister to power. But Abhisit Vejjajiva is no longer the Yellow Shirts' golden boy. He has been criticized for not being tougher with Cambodia in a long-running border dispute.
Others say he wasn't hard enough on Red Shirt protesters who surrounded Government House last March and later occupied Bangkok's commercial center. (Keep in mind, 91 people were killed in street battles and Abhisit was accused of using excessive force.)
The Red Shirts support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was ousted by a military coup in 2006 and has since been convicted of a corruption charge by Thailand's Supreme Court. Thaksin is widely considered to be leading the Pheu Thai party from exile in Dubai. His sister, Yingluck, is the party's candidate and leads in the polls. She would be Thailand's first female prime minister.
The Red Shirts have rallied behind Yingluck. But the Yellow Shirts are broken into several factions, the "Vote No" campaign being one of them. There is also the New Politics Party, led by a former key PAD leader. In the taxi, my mom told me she thinks that will lead to a spoiler effect and hand victory to Thaksin.
That seems like a long explanation of one poster. But Thai politics are complicated. And contentious. No matter who wins the July 3 election, one side will be left very unhappy. The question is how they will express that discontent... and how damaging will it be for the country?