A Retiree’s View of Politics in Thailand

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.

Expat Opinions

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.

7 Responses to “A Retiree’s View of Politics in Thailand”

  1. kohsamuipete said

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Lani said

    Thoughtful post Hugh (and I’ve come to expect nothing less). It’s a dicey road, isn’t it? I watch the tweets and the read the good opinions of others and I think, this is interesting.

    I’ve been rather neutral myself but I know my mom’s opinion and I take that into consideration. But forming my own thoughts became a little tricker since I’m half Thai and American born and raised.

    That being said, I think many foreigners say what their Thai partners think. It seems only natural and it’s always easy to give an opinion; and let’s face it, Thailand has a lot of old farts who like to talk about politics 🙂

    I just know when I was in the teachers room and someone was playing a British Ken Robinson TED speech on ‘what’s wrong w/ the US school system’ etc, etc. my American eagle feathers were ruffled.

  3. frank fey said

    Durian is fattening? Oh dang that worst news I’ve heard in long time. Nice post, but it would be nice if there was a lobbiest pushing for expats special interests over there.

  4. Ivo said

    As long time expat in Thailand I do not agree with your “not having an opinion”. Politics effects us all but talking about the real cause could bring you in trouble (this is not a fair country) and that is why many Thai people do not have an opinion. With this attitude we would still be selling black people as slaves and 7 years old kids would still be working in a factory. At least in Europe & USA that is not happening anymore. There is a reason why that is not happening anymore. People stood up and said “No, not anymore”

    • Hi Ivo,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I do not have opinions on Thai POLITICS. Slavery and child labor are not politics in my view. I have interviewed trafficked women here. I have known “procurers”, people who go into villagers and entice girls with an offer of “a job in Bangkok as a waitress”. I wrote an article in the Bangkok Post many years ago describing how a specific woman got tricked into the sex trade, and unbelievably they published it (It may be somewhere on the Web and was called “Girl from the North Country”). Over the many years I have been here things have not changed that much. I am familiar with Thai social problems and have opinions, and try to do things to alleviate them. Politics, on the other hand (who the prime minister is, what the government’s policies on tariffs are, what party is in charge), these things I leave to others.

      BTW, if you think that “many Thai people do not have an opinion” about politics here then you aren’t talking to the same people I talk to (or to the hundreds of thousands of different colored shirts who marched in the streets loudly expressing their opinions). Everyone seems to have an opinion – but because freedom of speech is not one of the rights always observed here, people may be reluctant to share their ideas with you.

  5. robsg said

    Hi Hugh. Although I’m not in Thailand, I enjoy your posts very much. I have read in one post that you return to Seattle once every year or two.

    I have been in Asia for about 36 years, 25 in Singapore, 7 in Vietnam, 4 in Korea, 1 in Thailand (Peace Corps in the late 1960’s). I relate to your love of Asia. I’ve also worked and lived in Egypt, Liberia, Jordan, and a few other countries. I teach in American Embassy type schools. I’m 67, and retired this month from 42 years as a teacher..

    I believe in one of your posts you mentioned that you have a home in the States, but you choose to live in Thailand. I actually miss the States and have absolutely no home base in the States. It’s always been a place to visit on brief holidays. I’m kind of doing the reverse of most posters here. I have been overseas most of my adult life, and I so relish being tied more to the States. I’m going to buy a place in either Bellingham, Blaine or Point Roberts, get a Labrador to raise, do plenty of gardening and long hikes, watch with awe at the change in seasons, and take some continuing education courses.

    I’ll decide later on if I want to retire overseas after living overseas most my life. There is something to be said for being truly home. As much as being a Permanent Resident in Singapore or having a retirement visa in Thailand is nice, I am going to try my own country as a homebase, and 2 or 3 times a year travel to places like Ecuador, Costa Rica, or Thailand.

    I actually went so far as to get a MM2H (Malaysia My 2nd Home) visa, good for ten years. However, my heart is not even in that unfortunately, and I will give that up.

    Just wanted to share with you the perspective of another retiree.


    • Hi Rob,

      You do have some interesting times ahead of you. We used to have a home in Seattle but it became too expensive (taxes, insurance, etc.) to keep up both so we sold.

      You couldn’t choose a better place to live than the Great Pacific Northwest – with one caveat. The winters, although not very cold, are long, dark and wet. It doesn’t pore rain like they show on all the movies filmed in Seattle. But it drizzles constantly. And since Seattle is so far north in the winter the sun rises about 9:30 and sets about 3:30, so the days are really short and the nights really long. Of course the summers are the opposite and it doesn’t get dark until about 10 pm.

      SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is very real and usually due to lack of sunlight. I would leave the house for work in the dark and come home in the dark. sometimes I would god for 3 or 4 weeks without seeing the sun once. So even someone like I would get depressed during January and February. Sitting under a sunlamp helps; better is taking a trip to Hawaii.

      Of the places you mentioned, Blaine I believe is on the border with Canada and very close to Vancouver, a really great city, very similar to Seattle. Bellingham is up north also and is a university town. Both are very livable places but I like the Seattle area better – sports teams, concerts, culture, etc., really cosmopolitan without the urban blight I don’t know Point Roberts but it sounds rural to me.

      Thanks for dropping by. You have an interesting take on how your retirement should go. Lots of luck to you and enjoy the northwest.

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