ALL journalists torn from their usual haunts and thrown into a strange new world become instant experts on that world’s socio-political system. Honest. Just ask any foreign journalist.
So, in that spirit, I’d like to propose eight New Year’s resolution for Thailand:
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra probably rates second only to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the “most beleaguered Asean leader” stakes, having faced an unending barrage of controversies and criticism over the last year.
True, much of the criticism is justified. However, quite a bit seems to have been criticism for criticism’s sake. Some of the latter type probably stems from the sight of political blood – his rivals, sensing weaknesses in his armour, are pulling out their knives.
Yet Thailand, like many other countries in the region, faces a challenging year. Some of these challenges can only be surmounted if there is unity and a sense of common purpose.
Barring a coup, he’s there for another couple of years. Give him the space to fix things – and perhaps the impetus to do so by presenting a viable challenge in the Senate Elections in April.
On the other hand, the prime minister should listen to some of the criticism. They’re spot on.
Thaksin’s new year’s resolution was to react more calmly to criticism. Don’t do that: Reach constructively instead. Some of your critics know what they’re talking about.
While Thaksin has had some minor, and relatively unsung, success in bringing many Thais out of the poverty cycle, he needs to focus less on his business alliances (read: cronies) and empire, and more on the country’s socio-economic problems.
If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang, not a whimper. History will treat you more kindly.
According to some non-governmental organisations, the number of prostitutes operating in Thailand at any given time is close to two million, representing 9% of the female adult population. Others say that 70% of Thailand’s tourism income comes from sex tourism.
Even if one is to ignore the morality of the situation, such a pass is unacceptable – it affects families, women and children.
There are a number of NGOs and activists who are trying to stem this tide. Every once in a while, the government announces a crackdown, which inevitably peters off.
No more. Whole generations of children are being lost to this trade. Something needs to be done and, whatever it is, it has to be a sustained, continuous effort.
Despite that roaring sex trade, Thailand can be downright conservative when it comes to sexual matters.
Witness all the hullabaloo raised over the unwed pregnancy of actress and TV host Kataleeya “Mam” McIntosh in September, or the fact that ruling party MP Dr Nahathai Thewphaingarm, a single woman, had to hold a press conference to rebuff online rumours that she was carrying the child of a highly-placed government official.
There were extenuating circumstances to why they were scandalous – “Ms Clean” Kataleeya had for months denied the allegations, while the supposed “father” of Nahathai’s baby was of keen interest – yet the attention overwhelmed the “crime”.
Another resolution related to the tourism industry: While welcoming visiting foreigners warmly enough to convince them to come again, don’t do so at the expense of your self-esteem.
Being warm and friendly is one thing; being fawning is another. Thailand has a rich and proud history: Keep that in mind before you start posting “I Love Farang” signs all over the place.
Thailand’s farang-friendliness (farang = mat salleh) and relatively peaceful race relations belie an innate racism.
According to a Gallup International Voice of the People survey whose findings were released in December, Thailand is one of the most xenophobic countries in South-East Asia, with an unfriendly regard for migrants.
Migrant labour, unless mishandled and abused, provide great economic benefits that last longer than the one-off revenues you make from tourism. Nurture them.
Thailand enjoys a long break from Dec 29 to Jan 3 and, just as in Malaysia, everybody does the balik kampung thing. And similarly, the rate of traffic accidents soars. This year, about 400 people were killed in that short time-span.
Thai drivers need to stop treating traffic regulations as mere suggestions. There is a need for more comprehensive road-safety campaigns that are not just geared towards “peak” festive periods either.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Really, we all know what we’re talking about ?