Thai women are fighting an uphill battle in an electoral landscape dominated by men, three female politicians said.
Politics is dirty for “pretty faces,” the three women told reporters Wednesday night. The next day, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ordered the Thai Raksa Chart party dissolved, ruling that it acted in a hostile manner toward the monarchy by nominating a princess as its prime ministerial choice for the March 24 general election.
“People find that women should not enter politics because Thai politics is dirty, dangerous – especially when you are pretty, rich and you have other choices,” Pannika Wanich, spokeswoman for the Future Forward Party, said during a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok.
“People say politics is about one right strong man to lead the country,” said Pannika, who is running for a parliamentary seat.
Only seven of about 70 candidates for prime minister are female, according to a report from the FCCT. One of the electoral hopefuls is a transgender, the report said, underscoring that male candidates outnumbered women, even though the nation’s population of about 70 million is 51 percent female.
Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya would have been the highest-profile woman among politicians contesting the forthcoming elections. But hours after the Thai Raksa Chart announced her nomination on Feb. 8, her plan to join politics swiftly unraveled when her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, condemned her candidacy as “extremely inappropriate.”
Among the leading male candidates for prime minister is Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the incumbent in the office and former army general who spearheaded a military coup that toppled Yingluck Shinawatra five years ago. Yingluck, who is in a self-imposed exile, was Thailand’s first female prime minister. She had three women ministers in her cabinet.
Pannika and two other candidates from rival parties – Tidarat Yingcharoen of the Pheu Thai Party and Siripa Intavichein of the Democrat Party – complained about stereotypes against women in the Buddhist-majority nation.
“Traditional voters have a stereotyped mindset of not having women as leaders. We should change the mindset, encourage women to enter politics,” said Siripa, who is the spokeswoman for her party.
“We are equal in politics,” she said, “but when I look at the number, it is not equal.”
Seventy-nine women ran for a seat in the 500-member House of Representative in 2011, according to the Election Commission.
Women in Thailand occupy more than one-third of the CEO and CFO positions, far higher than the global average, according to the thailandbusinessnews.com.
But in the political arena, the news website said, Thai women are underrepresented, as cultural barriers remain strong in a society that has experienced more than 20 military takeovers or attempted coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
About 12 million women or 52 percent of voters cast their ballots in the 2006 general election, but only 8.7 percent of the parliamentarians were female, it said.
Pheu Thai’s Tidarat said women should be trained to lead under an environment that allows women to excel.
“Train women to have better skills,” she said. “Change social perception to support women.”
Pannika, a former TV anchor, said female politicians should not only touch on “soft” issues such as education or public health, but on topics like military reform.
But, she acknowledged, it would be a tough sell to attract voters in a male-dominant culture that discourages women from entering politics.
“They just want to see pretty faces,” she said, referring to male voters.