Monday, May 2, 2011

Thai Government needs a Makeover

At this point, less than two months before elections, there is still no guarantee that the outcome will not result in massive-scale of protests, violent or otherwise - this cycle of political instability stirring unrest after close-call elections will repeat itself over and over again, unless Thailand recognizes the missing element needed to form an actual democracy: women.

In Thailand's upcoming elections culminating in June (we hope), the contending parties are once again cookie-cutter contenders of their power-hungry, money-squandering predecessors.  The Thai-Cambodian border dispute distanced royalist-supporters, PAD, from the Prime Minister Abhisit due to his lack of decisive tactics to end the conflict.  Since the shift in loyality, a division of PAD attached itself with smaller coalitions that polls estimate will increase the Democrat party chances of winning over their opposition, Phuah Thai Party, in the southern and central Thai provinces.  However, a separate sect of PAD is petitioning to boycott the elections altogether due to the Red Shirts calling for national reconciliation.

The Red Shirt's Phuah Thai Party, on the other hand, is receiving emotional and monetary support from former billionaire PM, Thaksin Shinawatra, who vocalized that if PTP wins, he will come back from exile to fulfill his grandiose pro-poor policies.  Inevitably, if carried out, this promise would end in disastrous rebellion from the anti-Thaksin half of the nation.

Despite Thailand being one of the first countries to grant women the right to vote, their learning curve has been dramatically slow since.  The collective voice of women in parliament is nothing if not ambient noise next to the corrupt cacophony of that of their male counterparts.  Women average around 5 percent of the members in each committee of Parliament; they make up 15 percent of Parliament as a whole, and the same percentage in the senate.  Women's groups in Thailand have tried their hand at pipelining women directly into central administration, but the flow stops at gender-sensitive committees, such as tourism agencies or ministries overseeing children and parental development, that keep women in peripheral spheres of power.  When their influence is confined to mere subsets of government, then the process to define policy has unequal representation from members of society, and therefore cannot be considered a true democracy.

Yet, paradoxically, women hold more responsibility in the village sphere. Nong Wang is a slum community in Khon Kaen Province who recently received the deed to a new legal plot of land after years of dedicated protest.  The community's voice, their cheerleader, and organizer is Meh Joi.  A mother of two and grandmother of 2, and a leader of 86 families. Her role in leading the community was directly related to the success the village had in getting the lease to their land.  

In another part of the region, a Learning Center is developing to educate younger generations living in Rasi Salia and Hua Na villages about their culture's way of life post-Rasi Salai dam.  Leading this coalition to build an all-inclusive educational environment is Meh Paw, the communities' force to hold them all accountable.

And we can't forget about Wanita Sarawak, the bold woman who fronted the movement that led the Assembly of the Poor from their Northeast corner to Bangkok's front door to demand rights.

So what does this mean that capable, headstrong, value-oriented individuals like these women aren't seen more in office?

Probably because they are capable, headstrong, and value-oriented. 

Democracy in Thailand is a system based around who has the most money and influence over the rest of Parliament.  Even if Thai women had more of an interest to break into legislation, there would be no support to validate their honest values that are for the people.  If Thailand is ever going to tear itself away from the cycle of civic unrest, violent uprising, and corrupt government, then maybe it's time for the people leading the movements to start leading their country instead.  

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