Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chitpas aiming to make a change for Thailand’s poor


Under the broiling morning sun, at a lane where hawkers sell grilled pork and live chickens in a working class area in Bangkok, the 26-year-old Singha beer heiress was door-to-door campaigning.

The heiress, wearing pink sneakers, tight jeans and a white T-shirt with the Democrat party logo, pressed her palms together and bowed to a middle-aged hawker.

“Hello! My name is Chitpas Bhirombhakdi. I am the Democrat candidate for this district. Please don’t forget to vote for No. 10,” said the heiress in Thai, referring to the number the ruling Democrat got for party list candidacy.

The woman returned the wai (a respectful Thai greeting) while clutching a campaign brochure with Chitpas’ photograph and said, “You look more suay (beautiful) in person”.

The rookie politician is contesting in Bangkok’s Dusit-Ratchathewi constituency.

Located in the old part of the Thai capital, Dusit is a prestigious neighbourhood with Chitralda Palace (the official residence of King Bhumibol), Government House (the office of the Prime Minister), Parliament, Dusit Zoo and Boon Rawd Brewery (where Singha and Leo beer are produced).

Ratchethawi is a high-rise building area famous for Pratunam Market (one of Thailand’s largest clothing markets) and Pantip Plaza (Thailand’s Low Yat Plaza).

Chitpas is a scion from one of Thai­land’s wealthiest business families.

“Does your surname carry weight in making the people vote for you?” I asked the heiress while she was taking a break next to a smelly railroad track from her campaigning.

“I don’t think it is going to help with votes. But it helps me in terms of recognition. People recognise my surname. They will say, ‘you are Singha brand’,” she related.

It has always been Chitpas’ dream to be a politician.

“My parents have always told me I was fortunate to be born in a family which can fully support me in my education.

“I was lucky they could send me to boarding school (Godstowe school, Buckinghamshire) in England when I was nine years old. I decided after I graduated that I wanted to help in the development of my country,” said the woman with a bachelor’s degree in Geography from King’s College.

“Isn’t politics too low brow for a hi-so (Thai slang for high society) like you?”

Chitpas said: “I grew up in a society where we like to complain about politics and corruption. And we don’t really do anything about it because we are fortunate enough to get away from all that.”

“But if you let the corrupt politicians run the country, eventually it would affect you – maybe not now but definitely it would affect your children or grandchildren.”

“But,” I said, “wouldn’t it be easier ...” And Chitpas laughed and said “... not to do anything?”

“I have tried to explain to people that you can’t really pick what you are born into but you can pick the life that you want to have and this is the life that I have chosen,” explained the politician, who once told Tattler magazine that she wanted to be Thailand’s first female Prime Minis­ter.

“I am not thinking of myself but the 90% of the population who are not hi-so. If I was going to have a child in the future, I want my child to grow up in a society where there was equality in the quality of life. And I want to close the gap between the rich and poor.”

Chitpas said she was “happy” that she was campaigning in the poorer part of Bangkok .

“Today I am not just walk, walk, walk, introduce myself, hello! hello! hello! When I go home I will write and think what can be done here,” she explained.

On that day, Chitpas said she saw that the community lived in a compact area where there was no room to breathe.

“You have a little room where 10 people sleep and yet everyone has a dog,” she related.

“They have a dog for security. And we are planning to install 200,000 CCTVs around Bangkok and that will improve security and cut down the number of dogs so that the kids can live in a hygienic place.”

In December 2009, Chitpas, a staff member of Thai Prime Minister’s secretariat, was embroiled in a Calendar girl controversy.

She had to resign from her post because she gave away sexy Leo beer calendars at the Government House.

“The lesson I learnt is not to trust people. And that I need to be more careful,” she said, adding it would have been okay if she distributed the calendars outside the August Government House.

In the race to be MP for the Dusit-Ratchathewi constituency, Chitpas is neck-and-neck with the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Pheu Thai party candidate Leelawadee Watch­arobol, a former Miss Thai­land and TV star.

And in the ballot boxes, the heiress is hoping she will be as popular as the iconic Singha beer.