An exiled former prime minister jumped into a churning debate over Thailand’s disaffected youth to say they wouldn’t want to leave the country if their leaders just listened to them.
Responding to youth dissatisfaction with their homeland, Thaksin Shinawatra last night said in a hosted Clubhouse session that he was surprised by the huge interest in living abroad and seized the opportunity to criticize the military-backed government for abusing its authority over the youth without trying to understand them or address the economic rot fueling their frustration.
“Misunderstanding between old and new generations is normal, but to disregard and only use power to rule over them is another thing,” said 71-year-old Thaksin, who has lived in self-exile since he was ousted from power and convicted of corruption. “We must try to understand and listen to them. What will they do after they graduate?”
Debate ignited among the commentator class after a private Facebook group originally called Let’s leave the country drew more than 750,000 members since launching Saturday. There, people have opined about their anger with the state of affairs, complaining about everything from lack of economic opportunity, political unaccountability and the monarchy. Those already making a living outside the kingdom share their experiences, as well as tricks and tips on how to relocate as they did.
Thaksin’s comments came after a predictably prickly response from the powers that be to reports of the group. IT Minster Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn said a team would be established to monitor the group due to complaints that it contained content that damaged national unity – not known to be a crime – and defamed the monarchy – a severely punishable crime. However, Chaiwut said the content seemed fine so far as it was more about educating people. He warned that members should beware of scams, illegal immigration information and political comments that can be prosecuted.
“Some members that have escaped to foreign lands have this behavior of hating the nation and wanting to destroy our unity, and insulting the [royal] institution,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to track down cybercrimes!”
Since its launch Saturday, the group has sparked conversation in the national media and polled users for where they’d most like to live. Embassies for nations including Sweden and Australia have jumped on the bandwagon by inviting people to relocate to their countries.
Thaksin said he recalled the phenomenon of Thais looking elsewhere for opportunity when he was a child, and people were emigrating to more developed countries such as the United States because they wanted better futures. He said people should stop holding up the ambitions and frustrations of Thailand’s youth as evidence they “hate their own country” because “it’s crazy.”
Then, of course, he made it about himself.
“If I was still prime minister, this wouldn’t happen. I wouldn’t let people starve to death,” he said.
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