At what point does the sense of shame becomes overwhelming? What does it take for the skin – no matter how thick – to start cracking?
I’m not talking about bling-watches-lover General Prawit Wongsuwan, not billionaire-animal-poacher Premchai Karnsuta and not former part-time police chief Somyot Poompanmoung. I’m talking about education minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin.
On Monday, as reported by BBC Thai, Teerakiat was at the Thai embassy in London speaking to a group of Thai students and businessmen. Questions were asked and the education minister spoke of the scandal concerning General Prawit’s luxury watch collection:
“About these watches, if it’s me who was exposed, I would have quit after the first watch. That’s me. As for what other people would say, you have to ask them.”
“People are too afraid to speak about this. What are they afraid of? Now that I spoke out about it, are they going to fire me for it?”
It was brave. It was bold. Deservedly, Teerakiat received support and applause from the people when news broke of his words.
Finally, we thought to ourselves, someone within the government is standing up and speaking out. Finally, someone is putting the interests of the country ahead of tribal politics. Finally, integrity makes a stance in a political landscape where it seems everyone looks out only for personal interests.
Furthermore, according to reports, Teerakiat in London also spoke of the importance of the rule of law and accountability of politicians – both of which he pointed out are lacking in Thai politics.
When he returned to Bangkok, Teerakiat skipped a cabinet conference.
Speculation was abounding as many thought the education minister wasn’t just going to talk the talk, he was also going to walk the walk.
Perhaps he would resign to set an example of the things he boasted of to no longer be a part of a government lacking transparency and accountability. Finally, Thailand may have a politician the people can look up to. Finally, well… I’ve run out of dramatic flares.
By Tuesday, Thailand was reminded that underneath the facade of bravado, Teerakiat is simply a typical politician.
After a private meeting with junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha and deputy leader Gen. Prawit, the education minister held a press conference at Government House to tell the country he had apologized to Prawit, citing he had broken etiquette by making those comments.
Evidently, tribal politics and personal interests jumped integrity in the school toilet and took his lunch money.
Teerakiat kept his job. But he lost two things.
First, for shooting his mouth off, he lost the trust of his superiors General Prayuth and General Prawit.
Second, for not showing the courage of conviction, he lost the respect of the Thai people – most of whom did not even know who he was before this fiasco.
Everyone has defining moments in life. The time when situations arise to test who you are as a person, when your integrity and character are on the line.
This was the education minister’s defining moment, and the result serves to remind us that we the people cannot simply sit by and look to our political leaders – elected or unelected – to put national interests ahead of tribal politics or to put ethical values ahead of personal gains.
This is why society must continue to stay active and inform, and teach our children differently. The present may be nauseating, but the future need not be.