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Parts of Bangkok will surely party tonight for incoming U.S. President Barack Obama, whose swearing-in happens around midnight here in the Thai capitol. Given Obama's lofty profile in Bangkok, some Thais may be surprised to hear that Obama was still waiting to take the presidency.
While superficial, Obama's image here still casts him as the planet's young and handsome savior. Consider the above cartoon, scanned from the million-circulation, Bangkok-based Thai Rath newspaper. A sickly globe clutches Barack's arm and begs "Please Change the World Too."
Thailand, which could use a savior of its own, has also taken to calling its own new premier "Obamark" in recent weeks. This is a play on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's nickname — "Mark" — which likely helped him sidestep some grief while studying at Oxford.
The parallel is meant to flatter and Abhisit — also young and also heading what he calls a "coalition government" — has done little to stem the comparison. Asked last week how he could heal Thailand's urban/rural divide, Obamark mentioned the U.S.:
"The midwest keeps voting Republican. And the east and west coasts keep voting Democrat. When you do polls of voter behavior all over the world , often you find that urban people prefer one party, rural people prefer another. That doesn't mean urban and rural people are necessarily in conflict. During my years in politics, I've found that women tend to vote for us than men. I don't think there's a fundamental problem between men and women."
Ground zero for tonight's inauguration merrymaking in Bangkok is the Roadhouse BBQ, which expats dutifully packed during each presidential debate. (It's likely the only bar that replayed the debates.) We'll be there ... and we'll also let you know how his inaugration plays in the Thai press the next day.
P.S. Thanks to Ron at 2bangkok.com for capturing the cartoon above and the picture below, of Obama photos sold in gilded wooden frames on Bangkok's streets.