July 1, 2013
For years I have avoided giving my opinion about the political situation here in my adopted retirement home. Most foreign columnists and higher profile bloggers are just as reluctant. But I know that one of the most popular pass times among common Expats here is to voice their opinions, usually negative, on how this government is run, what the country’s leaders should be doing differently, and basically to give advice on how to cure all the country’s political ills, because of course they could do a better job. I thought it was about time to give my opinion.
My opinion about politics in Thailand is that I have no opinion.
I am adamantly un-opinionated about politics here. And there are good reasons for this. But first I should explain. Of course I have opinions about what is going on around me. But when it comes to local politics, these are thoughts that I keep to myself. I am a visitor here. I have no voting rights, no horse in the race.
If the Thai people and government decide to do things a certain way then that is their decision. It is none of my business. I don’t think that I would enjoy listening to a Thai citizen going to the U.S. and telling me how I should run my country. If I don’t like how things are going and if the political situation here really irks me then I am off to wherever is next.
Now, I have a lot of opinions, on road safety in Thailand, on the weather, on air pollution, on the levels of corruption, on crime, on the Thai educational system, on the level of English spoken here, and on the amount of time teenagers spend playing video games. But when it comes to what political party should be in power, whether the Minister of This-&-That should keep his post, or what kinds of treaties should be made with neighboring countries, I think that the Thai people can handle that themselves.
The T-Shirt Wars
During the T-Shirt Wars of a few years ago, there were many Thais rallying on the streets wearing one color shirt, and just as many wearing another color. Although I don’t have an opinion on what color was right or wrong (I put all my colored T-Shirts away in my closet) I did follow the goings on intently.
One day I watched a rally of one colored shirt group when the MC on the stage called up a westerner to give his opinion. He spoke no Thai and gave a rambling speech in English about how good this particular colored shirt group was and that he completely backed them. He got wild applause, although I am not sure that anyone in the crowd understood a word he said.
The next day, the other colored shirt group had a rally, and wouldn’t you know it but they had their own token white guy to say how great this particular colored shirt group was. He also didn’t know a word of Thai, but again he got wild applause.
These two Expats looked rather silly speaking at a Thai political rally. Picture a Thai, speaking Thai, and getting up in front of an American protest rally to give his 2 cents worth. I don’t think that would be a pretty sight.
I am not sure where they got their information from; maybe from the newspapers. There are 2 large circulation English language newspapers here, and except for their international feeds, they are rather boring and poorly written (unless you are really interested in the current price of tapioca pellets and the latest cricket scores).
I hear and read opinions from Expats living in Thailand all the time and many are quite opinionated. Mostly their opinions side against the current government and with the opposition. Coincidentally, these are usually opinions held by one or the other English language newspaper.
A little history (un-opinionated)
Some years ago a man was elected prime minister of Thailand. He was so popular that for the first time in history a PM was reelected. Then he did some foolish things, pissed some people off, and although his party had won national elections with huge margins, instead of waiting for a new election the military ousted him in a coup (which was historically how Thai governments changed).
After a pretty confusing time and a number of elections whose results were not satisfactory to those in charge, the old PM’s party won once again and today the old PM’s younger sister is the current PM, the first female prime minister (and duly elected at that) in Thai history.
Somewhere in between all of the above there were the T-Shirt Wars and lots of bad stuff happened.
The Expat community has been very opposed to the ousted and current PM. Many voiced support for the military coup when it occurred (and some are even calling for another one, something I didn’t even want for Nixon or the baby Bush). I have always felt confused about that as these PMs have been elected democratically – so does that mean that all these Expats are opposed to democracy?
Much of the arguments I hear against the new PM is that she spends too much time on her clothes and looking good (sounds pretty sexist I would think). I don’t have an opinion about her politics or whether she is a good PM or not, but I do know that she is the best looking head of state since maybe Cleopatra, and definitely the best dressed – have you seen what Angela Merkle wears these days? Sorry, I guess that would be a pretty sexist attitude too – but hey, look at a picture of the two of them together.
If you are an Expat and want to keep your political opinions about Thailand, even undemocratic ones, that is up to you. I am not going to waste my energy. I have lived here under democratically elected governments, military dictatorships, good governments, and really bad ones, this color, and that color. And through all that, none of them has had even an iota of an impact on my daily life here. Because of the people, not the government, this is still, and always has been, a great place to be.
So I spend my time on really important matters. My opinion is that Thailand would be a much better place if it weren’t so darned hot in the summer, if there were less traffic on the roads, if durian weren’t so fattening, and if the sticky rice and mango season lasted all year. Other problems, I’ll let others deal with them.