Opinion: Coronavirus Shows Thai Gov’t Doesn’t Trust Its Citizens

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House on April 14, 2020.

In a bid to save Thais from themselves the government of Gen Prayut Chan-ocha last week decided to ban the sale of alcohol to prevent coronavirus infections. This makes Thailand almost unique in the world when it comes to such measures.

The government’s logic is that Thais tend to congregate (for a long period) to drink the night, and indeed the day away for that matter if left to their own devices.

To put it simply, the government doesn’t trust its own citizens to look after themselves. So they are saving Thais from themselves by banning booze that will likely last until the end of this month if not beyond.

Whether you agree with this latest policy and the government’s advice to Thais abroad not to return home just yet, it reveals the government’s lack of faith in the people. 

According to the government, over 10,000 Thais are stranded abroad and want to return to Thailand. But he government does not trust them to be able to self-quarantine and all must be subjected to state-quarantine and now they can’t handle all these people at once so they are told to wait. 

It doesn’t matter if these people become sick abroad for at least the Thai government would not have to be immediately responsible as any infected Thais abroad would probably be taken to hospital in those respective countries or let to die if that country’s health care system could no longer handle more patients, particularly foreign patients. 

This is happening while countries with overwhelmed healthcare services like France and the United Kingdom are doing their best to fly their nationals from Thailand back to their home countries. 

With little trust comes low respect. And if you are among the 27 million lesser-to-do Thais from the informal sector who recently applied for 5,000-baht per month coronavirus cash relief, do not expect a red carpet treatment if the money isn’t being transferred to your account.

A hundred people who felt they ought to receive the cash relief but did not show up at the Finance Ministry on Tuesday were given a cold welcome and told to go home and wait until Sunday to lodge an apple online.

The gates are then quickly locked to make sure that these needy Thais won’t grace the ministry anytime soon.

Some cried, and several threatened suicide because they believe they would starve to death before dying of virus infections.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it must be one taken by a local online Thai-language media The Standard. In the photo were five protesters filling up appeal petitions on the floor at the ministry. Yes, on the floor! 

And just three or four steps away through the glass partitioned and air-conditioned part inside the building sat empty faux Louis XI chairs and a sofa visible on the left side of the photos. Security guards were also present to make sure these people won’t get in.

Why can’t poor people be treated with respect and dignity by the government?

It’s as if in the eyes of some bureaucrats and the powers that be, poor Thais are actually less than citizens, second-class citizens if not less than human – parasites even.

Let them eat cake and write the appeals on the floor! And in that photo, the naked contempt of the Thai state against its own less-to-do people was revealed.

Thanks to the coronavirus, we are seeing a lot of subtle and not so subtle truths about the state of Thailand today.