Thais in Israel hope democracy will return

In unusual role reversal, citizens clamor for info on relatives back in Thailand.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
September 22, 2006 01:14
2 minute read.
Thais in Israel hope democracy will return

Thai worker 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Thai citizens living in Israel experienced a role reversal this week. Instead of relatives back home watching images of the conflict in Israel broadcast across their television screens, they turned on their own TVs this week to see the news filled with pictures from Thailand, where the military had staged a coup. The move left Thais here searching for information via the Internet and phone conversations with relatives. Now, several said, they - like their relatives in Thailand - were waiting to see whether the new leadership would make good on promises to hold speedy elections and restore democracy as well as clean up corruption. "I think it's good, what they're doing now," said Arun, a Thai farmhand who works in southern Israel. "If the army didn't do this, there would have been problems all the time and the economy would have gone down." He was referring to strikes against deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, strikes that had swept the country as popular anger at his rule gained steam. Now, Arun thought, there would be peace and order. He added that his family, which lives in northern Chang Rai, was fine, since the coup had been completed without violence. Besides, he said, they're used to it. "All the time it's like this." This coup is Thailand's 18th since World War II, though the country had now gone 15 years without one. Sara Butavia, who now lives in Jerusalem after marrying an Israeli backpacker she met in a store in Bangkok, said her family also hadn't been affected. "People in Bangkok are used to having situations like this," she said. She added that the new regime could be a force for good if it moved quickly to elections as promised. But already, declarations of elections within weeks have turned into a year. She said Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, provoked the people's wrath when he sold his billion-dollar company without paying taxes. "He's stolen the people's money. He didn't pay even one shekel. It isn't right," she said. But Arun praised Thaksin for initiatives that improved the lives of Thailand's poorer populations, including the country's first affordable health care. Thaksin was particularly well-liked among those from the lower strata and periphery of the country, such as where Arun's family lives. But his approval plummeted as he took anti-democratic steps and wouldn't yield power as he had pledged to. Arun said other Thai workers on his farm supported the coup. "Most people think it's okay that the army is now in the government," he said. "If they give back power and have elections again, all this will be okay."

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