Thai-American war hero turned senator hails ‘messy’ democracy in Bangkok

US Sen. Tammy Duckworth in a file photo during a 2014 visit to a university College of DuPage in Illinois. Photo: College DuPage
US Sen. Tammy Duckworth in a file photo during a 2014 visit to a university College of DuPage in Illinois. Photo: College DuPage

Thai-American US Senator Tammy Duckworth on Friday urged Thais to be patient with the “messy” nature of democracy, during her first official visit to her birthplace, Bangkok, since she was elected in 2016.

Duckworth’s comments come two months after 2014 coup leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha was reinstalled as Thailand’s civilian premier following a highly disputed poll.

The US Senator met Prayuth on Friday morning after a press conference where she congratulated Thailand on a “successful election.”

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Asked by AFP why she thought the contentious election had been a success, Duckworth replied “Jai yen yen,” which means “be patient.”

“One-hundred years after we became a democracy, we had a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans… we are nowhere close to that here,” she said in an allusion to the United States’ own historical divisions.

“Real democracy is messy … I understand the frustration of those who want things to move faster in Thailand, and I agree with you.”

The decorated US Army veteran, who also gave a speech at the Thai military academy during her visit, lost both legs in 2004 when her helicopter was shot down over Iraq.

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Since then she has chalked up a lot of firsts: the first Thai-American born in Thailand to be elected to Congress, the first female double-amputee elected to the Senate, and the first senator to give birth in office.

Born to a Thai mother in Bangkok, Duckworth said her Southeast Asian heritage gave her greater appreciation for the United States’ role in the world.

“I’m very proud to be American, but I don’t assume we are the leader of the world because we are the best,” she said. “I bring an appreciation for the diversity of our culture.”

Duckworth visited Thailand as the administration of US President Donald Trump attempts to counter China’s influence by re-engaging with Southeast Asian allies.

She also visited Thai veterans at a hospital and had an audience with Thai princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Thailand remains bitterly divided after 13 years defined by street protests, short-lived civilian governments and putsches by its coup-happy military.


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