First let me make clear that I will not complain about anything that is occurring now in Thailand, nor criticize anyone’s actions, nor offer suggestions. It is not my place.
I’ve been here for ten years now, but that doesn’t give me any rights to have an opinion. I stay resolutely out of Thai politics. Let’s face it, foreigners should just shut up. Talking to other Americans, I may complain bitterly about America. But let a Frenchman complain about America and I bristle with anger. Taking my own advice, I let Thai people talk about Thailand.
Regarding the recent events in Thai politics, I would only offer two points of clarification for American (or foreign) readers. One is general, and the other is specific.
The general point is that democracy has never appeared in any country fully formed in its inception, perfect from the get-go. Consider America’s experience. Our founding constitution was a wonderful document, and it has stood the test of time. Note, however, that it allowed only men to vote, and only men with property at that. And of course there was the matter of slavery. It was almost one hundred years before institutionalized slavery was washed out of our constitution, and it was well over one hundred years before women were allowed to vote. My point is that the achievement of democracy is an ongoing enterprise for any country that seeks to go there. Proceeding in fits and starts is normal, and the important thing is the desire to get there at all.
My second point is specific to Thailand. Thailand’s experience of itself is vastly different from America’s. In America, I think that we tend to conflate culture and politics, because they arose at approximately the same time, and only a couple of hundred years ago.
Thailand, on the other hand, has been the home of the Thai people and Thai culture for over 3,000 years. Thai politics has seen many changes over that time, while the progress of Thai culture has remained constant.
That Thais value personal freedom and the rights of others cannot be questioned. Democracy here is only a recent manifestation of this cultural priority. The very name of the country, chosen when they were formalizing their desire to have a representative democracy, is “Thailand,” or “Brataet Thai,” which literally means, “the Land of the Free.”
So I trust Thai people to take this as an opportunity to get closer to their goals as a nation. It’s up to them, and they don’t need me or John Kerry telling them what is right or wrong. It’s up to them, they themselves. I could say that Thailand is blessed with many people who are well educated and well informed, but that could be turned into a political football. Let me say instead that my experience of Thai people ranges from the upper limits of achievement to those who live and work way out in the rice fields, or up in the mountains, without two coins to rub together. I find that Thai people across all demographics are friendly, cooperative, intelligent and very, very sensible.
I trust them all to do the right thing.