Ms. Karavikar Svetasreni, McDonnell Scholar cohort of 2006, recently participated in the Second Asia Regional Meeting to Facilitate Dialogue on the Arms Trade Treaty in Manila on November 26-27, 2013. This meeting was hosted by the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. Karavikar served as a facilitator for a breakout session on National Processes during the two-day meeting, along with representatives from the Office of National Security Council of Thailand. Read more about UNRCPD or see photos from the event.
Karavikar reflects, “The McDonnell International Scholars Academy gave all the Scholars a set of unique experiences that transfers well to any industry. The high level people whose company and time we were honored to have were invaluable in shaping what we see as global issues. For my work, the visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City where we had the honor of a meeting with the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon and the New York Stock Exchange where we rang the opening bell, were some of the most memorable experiences for me. These meetings were not only about being in the presence of highly ranked persons but it was about learning how great leaders thought and saw the world. The Academy provides valuable experience that can shape our worldview from an early stage in our careers which is a unique asset.”
Karavikar also attended the Nuclear Security Summit Sherpa Meeting in Instanbul in November 2012; the Standing Committees to the Mine Ban Convention in Geneva in May 2013; and the First Committee of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City in September – November 2013, where she delivered Thailand’s statement on Conventional Weapons.
Karavikar is currently the Third Secretary in the Division of Peace, Security and Disarmament at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand.
The Democrats Can Learn from the Democrats
Months ago during a conversation on politics, my conversation partner said to me in a mocking manner, “It’s interesting that you’re a Democrat here but you identify with the elite party in Thailand.” He was talking, actually, about the Democrat Party of Thailand led currently by Abhisit Vejjajiva. Of course I started with disagreement and denial that I am an elitist. “No”, he said, “but your party is”.
Today, the world is observing the 2008 U.S. Presidential election with keen interest. We are witnessing one of the most important elections in recent history because the next president of the United States will be, in one way or another, the captain that will steer the future of America, and with it the world. As I watch with great excitement, I see political pundits saying one of Mr. Obama’s weaknesses is his inability to connect with “blue-collar workers” who make up an important voting bloc that the Democratic Party needs to win the White House. This reminds me of Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The Democrat Party of Thailand has a long history of being elitist and upholding a royalist but liberal ideology. It is the oldest political party in the country and still reflects strong ties to its roots as the party of princes. If given the option, they will choose policies that academics and experts identify as being good for the long-term future of the country over populist policies that will achieve little more than pleasing the people. Not surprisingly, the party’s biggest and strongest supporters are college graduates, royalists, professionals, students, and academics often living in Bangkok and other cities around Thailand. Another base of the party has been Islamic voters in southern Thailand. These blocs combined are small and will not grow to become the majority of the country anytime soon.
When the next election comes around in the Land of Smiles, the Democrat Party needs to take a few lessons from American politics to finally attract some of the rural voters who have favored figures like Taksin Shinawatra and his populist policies. We in Thailand may like to cite vote buying and election fraud as making it possible for the former Thai Rak Thai party to become the first party to hold a big enough majority in Parliament to create the first one party government. But attributing this development to dirty tactics will not help win votes – or help bring Mr. Abhisit becomee prime minister. We “elitists” in Thailand have to come to terms with the reality that some people genuinely like Mr. Taksin.
Just as Mr.Obama and his strategy team have been doing, Mr. Abhisit needs to “change the map” of the Democrat Party and expand its voting base. As is well known, the votes he needs are in rural Thailand and mostly in economically distressed areas. This demographic sector has not in my memory been Democrats and that has to change. Mr. Abhisit has to convert a large enough percentage of that population to be able to close the gap between the Democrats’ loyal base and the votes the party needs to seat him as prime minister.
He will have to follow a strategy similar to what Mr. Obama has pursued. While Mr. Obama must woo blue-collar workers, Mr. Abhisit must learn to woo rural farmers.
Mr. Abhisit needs to create a new message that recognizes that Thailand’s farmers and others in the agriculture sector as some of Thailand’s finest people who have fed the country and the world. Mr. Abhisit needs to assert that they deserve a government that recognizes them and respects their needs and that this government is one led by him – not any of Thaksin Shinawatra’s puppet prime ministers.
Mr. Abhsit has to strip his persona of its Oxford educated overtones and retell a story of his life that Thais in every small town and farm can relate to. He has to talk about their worries, about the fact that they cannot afford school tuition for their children or prescription drugs for their aging parents. I remember the member of parliament representing my district from the Democrat party very fondly. I see him at every funeral, farmer’s market, and hair salon in the district. When there is a house fire in the area, he miraculously pops up. Rumor has it that he washes his hair three or four times a day as he makes his way into every salon on the street. He kept his seat in parliament even when Taksin and the former Thai Rak Thai party was at its height of popularity because he connected with the people. The Thai Rak Thai machine threw one of their party’s best candidates at him and he still won by a comfortable margin while his peers in adjoining districts lost their jobs.
In the same fashion that Mr. Obama has effectively changed the political landscape of the U.S. election and is fine tuning his message, Mr. Abhisit must do the same. Connection to the people is the key.