Ignorance in society against poor people with low education poses a major barrier for the acceptance of equal political rights in Thailand, a symposium concluded yesterday.
Some parents are making their young children look down on poor people like street sweepers by inculcating the idea that they should study hard in order to avoid becoming a street sweeper, said Pheu Thai MP Wiphuthalang Phattanaphumthai. “They make children hate street sweepers from early childhood. But how can Bangkok survive if all street sweepers stop working for a day?”
Wiphuthalang said the elitist viewpoint that looks down on the poor and less educated, especially those from the North and Northeastern regions, does not necessarily arise from one’s social background.
“You are elite or serf not by birth but from your consciousness. It is a threat to the democratic system,” he said, at the symposium on myths about lowly educated poor Thais being stupid and a drag on Thai society.
The meeting was organised by Thailand Mirror, a liberal group of red shirts, at the October 14 Monument. The event comes at a time when some formally educated Thais who are disappointed by the latest general election results began asking whether Thailand should continue to accept the concept of universal suffrage or not.
“The chains that kept us in servitude were not physical ones but mental ones,” Wiphuthalang said, adding that although King Rama V ended slavery a century ago, many Thais continue to want to be enslaved by the elite.
Attachai Anantamaek, former TV star, said those who looked down on poor and less educated people were “extreme right wing conservative”. He said society should recognise that those with higher educational qualification are not necessarily smarter, as others could also learn to be wise through their life experience and from discussing and deliberating issues with others.
“It’s a mistake to think that educated people are smart. There’s no one who is knowledgeable about everything. Sometimes, by reading more books you end up being the kind of person that [the ruling elite] wants you to be.”
The panel also discussed the role of lese majeste law in hampering freedom of political speech and concluded that more efforts were needed to push for the amendment if not for the abolition of the law so people can discuss real politics openly.
Chiang Rai MP for Pheu Thai, Visaradee Techateerawat, said even though the stereotype of poor and less educated people being naive and not befitting of equal political right exists, the majority of the people can still make their political voice count by binding together during elections.
Visaradee added that sometimes she discovers that working class people like motorcycle taxi driver know more about some political issues than she does. She also added that although a number of villagers still accept vote-buying money from politicians to vote for certain candidates or party, the increasing reality is that they do not always vote for the party which gave them money.