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Thai journalists visiting Pa. offer different spin on political process

November 04, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - I relied heavily on the translators during Monday's interview with visiting journalists from Thailand, but the chorused response to one particular question needed no interpretation.

Do the people of Thailand seem to prefer one U.S. presidential candidate? I asked.

"O-ba-ma!"

Five newspaper editors, publishers and owners visited Waynesboro before today's stops at polls and the state capital to learn about elections in the United States. Their week concludes in Washington, D.C.

The group gathered for afternoon tea had a keen understanding of not only the candidates and their platforms, but also the U.S. system of democracy and the electoral college.

"The Thai people seem more informed in your election than the American people," Proy Sombut said.

"It gets covered in the news every day," Athit Saengsawang said.

They shared that, as journalists, disseminating information to the 65 million people of Thailand can be difficult because of having between 20 and 30 political parties there.

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"I think the American people can make good choices because there are only two parties," Lek Nakornchiangrai said.

However, their interpretation of what's important to Thai voters transcends our two cultures. Thailand's democracy gives more powers to the highest levels of government.

"People look at policies and they try to see how their lives can be improved," Ubolnadda Supawan said. "They look at programs and policies that will help them."

The five expressed grave concerns about vote-buying in their country. Those most susceptible to the practice are poor, uneducated people living in rural areas.

"They think that if they get money selling their votes, that will enable them to live that day," Supawan said.

"Our newspaper fights for people to be informed," Pongphun Jongyotying said.

Although others in the group disagreed with her, Jongyotying feels that vote-buying among the poor contributed to the loss of the Democratic party in the most recent election. That party fared well in the more prosperous Bangkok area, but the People's Power Party ultimately won.

Saengsawang, though, said the policies of the People's Power Party better appealed to poor voters, who would benefit from greater assistance in agriculture.

"That kind of policy brought people to the polls," he said.

Saengsawang strongly supported Hillary Clinton in her quest for the Democratic nomination.

"Women all over the world threw support behind her," Supawan said.

Now, the support has turned to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama because, as Sombut said, he's a combination of all colors and all people.

Supawan and Sombut had visited the U.S. before, but Supawan said it was nice to be in the country in an educational role rather than as a tourist in Los Angeles. She felt better positioned on this trip to exchange ideas and views with the people she meets.

Thailand has upcoming elections in rural areas at their village level.

"We try to campaign for people to come out and (exercise) their right to vote," Supawan said, saying her newspaper tries to remain neutral.

Not voting in the country formerly known as Siam can cause residents to lose certain rights, the journalists said.

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