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Sunday 3rd March 2013 11:15pm

Shocker as Thai MP says Thai women 'better off' marrying farang

A Thai MP stirred up controversy last August when he encouraged Thai women at a rally in Samut Prakan to find a farang husband as a way of securing a better life.

Pheu Thai MP Sunai Julphongsathorn's comments were greeted predictably with a massive backlash and complaints particularly from women's groups in Thailand. Many Pheu Thai supporters are very proud of the party and Thailand's leader Yingluck Shiniwatra who, in spite of many detractors and predictions of failure, continues to survive as the country's first female Prime Minister. More significantly politically, she is the sister of Thailand's ousted Prime Minister Thanksin Shiniwatra. But the Pheu Thai MP defended his outburst saying that his outburst was intended to illustrate what is lacking in Thai welfare services to citizens particularly maternity leave for Thai women and education.

The Pheu Thai MP told an audience of about 1000 red shirts at a rally in Samut Prakan province near Bangkok that Thai women should look to find a farang husband for an easy life. 'European governments give you everything for free,' he is seen saying on a You Tube video which was posted of his speech.

Sunai told his audience including many Thai women to 'get a German husband, get a Swedish husband, and get a Norwegian husband. People used to love (Thailand) unreservedly. But the more they loved the country, the poorer they got. The more they loved the country, the stupider they got.' In recent years many Thai women have been moving to Norway and Sweden in particular where state support services for Thai women are particularly strong. The numbers of Thai women migrating to Germany continues apace with Germany being one of the first countries where Thai women migrated through marriage beginning in the early 70s.

But the Thai MP had more to say in relation to the growing interest among Thai women in learning foreign languages and study abroad. 'All you need is a farang husband and their government will pay you to study,' he said. He then added fuel to the fire by suggesting to Thai women that the best way to study was through sleeping with a western man. 'Sitting studying is too slow. Lie down to study, and then go to the hospital. They will pay you to have the baby...it's all free right down to the shitty diapers.'

Defence of Thai MP's 'marry farang' comments

Just after the you tube video appeared and having being condemned by many online in particular women's groups, it emerged that the You Tube video was distorted and of poor quality. The Thai MP, in a very frank admission, told his audience that he himself has 'scolded' poor women from Isaan who had married foreigners or westerners: 'I used to scold these Thai women too.'

Thai MP equates marriage to farang as a flight to justice

The Thai MP from Chum Saeng in Nakhon Sawan province represents one of the poorest regions in Thailand being part of the Isaan region of North Thailand. The comments by Mr Julphongsathorn were really a lot more thoughtful, frank and considered than reported in the immediate aftermath of the red shirt rally at Samut Prakan. Mr Julphongsathorn told his audience about the hardship and lack of a future many Thai women from his province and the region endured. 'The poor people in Isaan, the poor people in the North - they don't have a future at all!'

Mr Julphongsathorn pointed out that many a Thai woman leaves the Isaan region including his province of Nakhon Sawan in search of a job or seek a marriage partner in central Thailand or Bangkok. 'Some get a good husband, some get a drunkard and some lucky (ones) even get a farang husband,' he said.

One commentator has pointed out that the heartfelt comments by the Thai MP were not an outright endorsement or encouragement for Thai women to marry a farang or western men but an honest admission of the current choices facing Thai women. One online pundit has highlighted the fact that the Pheu Thai MP openly admitted that he himself had scolded Thai women for finding a foreign husband . These commentators suggest that the Pheu Thai MP is highlighting that under Pheu Thai policies many Thai women would not need to marry abroad or leave Thailand.

A long term expat living in Bangkok comments: 'It has been suggested by many that the current trend for Thai women to seek husbands or foreign partners is a cultural trend, it may actually be so as the internet has made the world smaller and it is not out of the question now to see affluent Thai women seeking foreign boyfriend or partners but the vast majority of Thai women who marrying farang are being driven by economic forces. That does not mean that they are not genuine because I believe these are by and large good and sincere people but it is sobering thought. I applaud Mr. Julphongsathorn, it's refreshing to see a politicians speak from the heart.'

Thai MP says he has visited Thai women with foreign husbands

The Thai MP went on to say that after becoming a Red Shirt and an MP, he had travelled to Europe and met Thai women married to farang; 'Ever since I became a red shirt I know everything about their problems - having travelled across Europe, I've found the truth that they are really better off marrying farang,' he said.

Thai politics in a flux

The comments by Mr Julphongsathorn highlight the colourful and strange nature of politics in Thailand from the viewpoint of a westerner. It also helps us explain the growing numbers of Thai women who, even before the Pheu Thai MP's advice, have been seeking and marrying westerners (farang) in growing numbers.

Christopher Frost explains the nature of politics in Thailand: 'The crisis in Thailand has really been ongoing for a long time. You must first understand that Thailand is not simply one country although on one level it has a remarkable mutual identity, for instance many Thai's in Thailand are of Chinese decent while the people in Bangkok consider themselves a step above. To understand Thailand you not only have to understand the different groups but you must also understand that it is not just a patriarchal society; it is more importantly, a hierarchal society.

Mr. Frost believes that the growing numbers of westerners marrying Thai women and Thai women living abroad has combined with the growing power of global media and the internet to awaken Thai people at grass roots level. The result is the red shirt movement which is in itself a complex alliance of many groups.

'If you look at Thailand, you will see that the middle class in Bangkok and throughout the Kingdom are happy to keep the status quo. There is a desire to ape the western lifestyle but there isn't the same cultural depth that you find in Western countries. The country was delighted recently when a Thai cinematographer won the prestigious Palm D'or award in Cannes but he wasn't from Bangkok. He was from a poorer rural part of Thailand.'

Mr Frost believes that while the Thai MP's comments might have appeared vulgar and perhaps out of place, they do highlight how Thailand is at a cross roads. 'Thailand hasn't evolved in the 20th century like many other Asian countries, I don't necessarily agree with Mr Julphongsathorn. I think Thailand is right to thread its own path, I wouldn't recommend the Western European welfare state to anyone but what he said highlights a craving among many Thai people for something more.'

Mr Frost attributes the numbers of Thai women marrying westerners to the lack of social development in Thailand and the prejudices maintained by the hierarchal structures. 'Many middle class Thais have maids the same as other Asian countries; I think what you are seeing are many groups of Thai people voting with their feet.'

Mr Frost thinks it noteworthy that many farang or foreigners living in Thailand could be described as anti Thaksin. 'I have friends who deplore the red shirts and abhor Thasksin; you could call them Yellow shirts. Ironically, many of these people are liberal types yet they find the demands of poor people looking for increased rights and more welfare as repugnant. Many say they are sad to see the Thai smile of old lose its way, what they are against is the growing western culture, I understand that but it is ironic. It is noteworthy that during the 2010 riots many young westerner or farang spoke from the red shirt platform. These were the poorer farang I think.'

Ongoing political crisis in Thailand

The crisis in Thailand between the Red shirt movements and Yellow shirt groups continues. Most farang or westerners hope that the Thai people can sort it out through democratic process but the crisis is heightened every time there is a major demonstration or protest called. At present with Prime Minister Yingluck Shiniwatra, the current crisis revolves around the amount of influence the Prime Minister's brother has over the government. Thaksin Shiniwatra, revered by a large section of Thai society and detested by another section is in exile having being convicted by a Thai court of corrupted and sentenced to two years in prison.

Foreigners and Thai politics

'I think most farang or westerners living in Thailand are very aware that Thailand is not their country. I sometimes cringe when I see farang writing in the Nation or Bangkok Post with very strident tones. But then I think, well they are being sincere and perhaps they have detached view which may be informative to Thai reader. On the other hand I think they sometimes fail to appreciate that Thailand is not the West or a mature western democracy.'

'What we have learned is that the comments by the Thai MP were more than just an offhand joke but a serious comment of Thai society. We have also learned that the current political upheavals in Thailand and the growing numbers of Thai women finding relationships and marriage with foreign men are somehow linked.'

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Thai MP says Thai women marrying foreigners are 'better off'
Thai MP from Isaan suggests Thai women are better off marrying foreign men but his comments were more thoughtful than reported. There is a link between growing numbers of Thai women finding marriage with foreigners and limited economic opportunity.
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