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
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.
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
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.'