Thailand’s “nanny state” needs to come to an end, the country’s young leaders have urged, as they warn of protesting youths being taken off the streets and forced to endure “attitude adjustment” sessions.
In a panel session at the One Young World conference in Bangkok, chaired by the BBC’s world affairs editor John Simpson, four Thai nationals confronted the country’s problems head on, saying the government needed a drastic change.
During the conference, which, in an unprecedented move, has been granted complete freedom of speech by the Thai government, Simpson said young people have “largely been turned off politics in Thailand”.
“This is mostly because politics has ceased to exist in this country,” he adds.
Napas 'Zeze' Na Pombejra, a young Thai woman who wrote an open letter to CNN criticising it for it’s “one-sided” coverage of her country’s 2010 protests, urged young people to get involved in politics.
“We live in a very patriarchal society where elders make all the decisions, so young people feel like they don’t have a voice, and it takes away their empowerment,” she said, addressing a room of youth leaders from around the globe.
“But my message is that they can be the catalyst, the force for change,” she continues. “They do have a voice. First, however, they have to take an interest and start talking about it. If they become afraid to speak, discuss and share their views then the dialogue cannot continue.”
Cod Satrusayang, a correspondent for German news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur, says before young people can even begin talking there is a need to adjust the way they approach politics and social issues.
“And that is not to accept what has been fed to them by someone of a higher authority,” he says.
“There are lots of people who have protested against military rule. One group of students from a local university was striking by reading George Orwell’s 1984 novel on the streets in protest at government corruption.
“And in doing so they were taken in for ‘attitude adjustment’. I admire their courage.
“If the young people of today just by taking a stance inspire others to write about them then that is enough. They need to know their actions transcend that moment in time because it will inspire others. When you take a stand against absolutism, it always inspires.”
Zeze agrees, pinpointing the issue of Thai youths being able to speak out against the government and their elders to the education system.
“It does not facilitate a channel for people to get inspired or to come up with their own ideas. We need an overhaul of that system, that education mentality, so young people know they can express their own views even if they are not in line with their elders.
“They need to know it’s ok to have different views. If we do not have a structure that supports that direction then it will be very difficult for young people to take action or express themselves.”
But Panu Wongcha-um, IndoChina correspondent for Channel News Asia, said it could be up to 10 years before the country sees any real change.
“We need to end this nanny state,” he said. “Young people need to realise their ability matters in society. In a country where there is a patronage system young people need to go forward and realise Thailand will slowly move towards a meritocracy.
“The military say they want to guide the conversation where everyone can have their voices heard. But that’s the problem, state-led processes lack legitimacy and inclusiveness.
“People do have voices but there is no platform where they can express their views. For the past 10 years we have been going back to the streets for protests and turmoil. And this will continue until we have a credible leader, until an individual can emerge from the mess with a clear view.”
But, he adds, “I don’t see any figure in Thailand that can lead that kind of change.
“The movers and shakers really need to address that problem so the establishment can have less role in politics.”
For strategic communications consultant Chayut Setboonsarng, he believes the right leader can bring about a future future democratic government.
“If you can be the sort of leader to bring like minded people together and have a meaningful discussion then there is hope for moving forward and building democratic government.
“The future is for the making but we have to make that future together.”
One Young World is a global forum for young leaders aged 18-30, which gathers youths from around the globe to develop solutions to some of world's most pressing issues.