American friends will sometimes tell me how sorry they feel for Thailand and the Thai people. ‚??You must be very worried,‚?Ě they say. Or, ‚??I guess your family and friends in Thailand would like to get out now.‚?Ě
This negative impression of events in Thailand comes from the mainstream American media. Ever since the military coup in May, media pundits and NGO spokespersons have prophesied doom and the end of Thai democracy.
The negative perspective has been bolstered by the U.S. Government. Military aid has been blocked. The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, was loud in his denunciations of General Prayuth, the leader of the new Thai government.
But what do the Thai people themselves have to say? Aren‚??t the opinions of America‚??s oldest Asian ally and its citizens important?
The recently released Pew survey of people in the world‚??s nations asked this question: ‚??What would you recommend to a young person in your country today? Should they move to another country? Or stay in your own?‚?Ě
Here‚??s the answer that the Thai people gave to that question: by the highest rate in the world, 94 percent said ‚??Stay in Thailand.‚?Ě
The gulf between American elite opinion and the opinion of the Thai people shows up clearly in another poll taken in September. The poll interviewed¬†1,534 people across Thailand. Asked how much they are satisfied by the new government‚??s commitment to national reconciliation, 43.16% said they were satisfied with it and 38.14% very satisfied, while 12.32% said they were a little satisfied and 6.38% not satisfied at all. Compare this with ratings of the Obama Administration in U.S. polls! General Prayuth has a resounding mandate from the Thai people.
There‚??s a lesson in all this for American policy makers and pundits. Thais are optimistic about their future. Thais are willing to be patient and to give their new government a chance.
Better than U.S. diplomats, better than American media pundits, Thais understand their needs. They believe they can have a better life in the future. They themselves will monitor the new government. They themselves will support new elections under an improved constitutional system.
It‚??s time for the Administration and the American media to start listening to the Thai people.
Arkadet Sripipat is Editor of¬†Siam Media, a California-based Thai language newspaper.