A special visit to Wharton by His Excellency Pisan Manawapat, the 44th Thai Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the US, marked one of the most important events for the Southeast Asia Club this year. Thailand is the United States’ oldest friend and close ally in Asia, with 197 years of enduring friendship. We are the first Asian nation to have formal diplomatic relationship with the US. This close relationship has survived 40 US Presidents, 6 Kings of Thailand, 26 Thai Prime Ministers and 13 coups (most of which were under military rule).
Last week, The Wharton Journal published an op-ed by Hunt Kushner (WG’15) on Ambassador Pisan’s visit (Speak No Evil: Wharton’s Engagement with Thailand). The author questioned from where the Thai government, currently under military leadership, derives its legitimacy.
This question was not a surprising one. I am certain Ambassador Pisan has often dealt with such concerns, even from President Obama with whom he had a meeting with at the White House earlier in February, as well as from The Washington Post, which recently published his op-ed about Thai political situation and the country’s commitment to democracy.
However, to many of us there, Kushner’s question neither “struck a nerve” of our Ambassador, nor did the Ambassador or Professor Harbir Singh “[take] jabs” at him. We feel that it is our duty as the Thai people to present our views from the other side of the story.
The delicate and complex political situation of Thailand is not easy to understand. It would be very unfair to use a cookie-cutter standard or the Western mindset to judge whether we are the ‘evil’ of the democratic world. As our Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said in his opening address at the Wharton Global Forum in Bangkok earlier last month, “One-size shirt does not fit all”.
Thailand has come a long way from our first constitution granted in 1932 by King Rama VII, which advanced the country from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy. We are the only nation in Southeast Asia that has not been colonized by any country so we definitely understand freedom and would certainly fight if taken away from us.
Thailand is fully committed to democracy and is working towards changing for the better. The drastic changes in our politics were a response to the blatant abuse of power by politicians. We need to address the real balance of power, limiting the power of the administrative branch from the legislative branch in our constitution. The new constitution drafting and consultation process will be completed by September and elections will be held in 2016.
Undoubtedly, we have flaws, but we learn to strive with our imperfections. And it would hardly be fair to say that these changes have been for the worse. After all, why did the stock market and investors’ confidence level react positively after the coup? Why did the Wall Street Journal dub the Thai stock exchange as Asia’s third best performing market of 2014, grossing over 20% returns (even though the performance in first half of the year prior to the coup was considered lackluster)? Why was the Thai Baht (our currency) hardly affected by the change (and yes, we float our currency)? How can normal Thai people on the streets still have friendly conversations with the soldiers stationed at tanks during the coup?
Thai people continue living lives as normal, and certainly not because we are ignorant. That is the beauty of our country, and we don’t expect others to understand the full complexity of the situation just from reading a few articles from the press.
For those who want to learn more about Thailand, we would like to invite you to sit down with us, and we are more than happy to share with you our experiences. The Thais are famous for being friendly, kind, and hospitable – and yes, first drink is on us.
Sirin Akaraphan (WG’15)
Thepphan Asvatanakul (WG’15)
Napol Chaisilwattana (WG’15)
Paul Lertbannaphong (WG’15)
Chutima Orsirivikorn (WG’15)
Chananya Rawangban (WG’15)
Kris Suebjaklap (WG’15)
Nida Bunnag (WG’16)
Mill Sawitree Laoprapassorn (WG’16)
Praew Chosita Luangprasert (WG’16)
Tiger Rattanaruengyot (WG’16)
Amy Rungrojanaluck (WG’16)
Jenvit Seriburi (WG’16)
Kaned Suviwattanachai (WG’16)
Innapha Tantanavivat (WG’16)
Mine Sopicha Wattanasansanee (WG’16)
Amp Thanapasuk (Exchange student, Sasin)
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