People with Disabilities in Thailand
Thailand had been involved in the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) since the beginning through its participation in the CRPD Ad-hoc Drafting Committee. It became one of the first countries that signed the CRPD on the date that it became open for signature on 30 March 2007. Various laws and policies related to the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities have been put in place in compliance with the CRPD. The Thai Cabinet approved the ratification of the CRPD On 1 April 2008. The Royal Thai Government regards the CRPD as an effective tool to transform our charity-based society into a rights-based society for persons with disabilities.[i]
The 1974 Constitution barred persons with hearing impairments and illiterhttp://aerc.anfrel.com/country/thailand/participation-of-minorities/#_edn1ate people from voting and standing for parliamentary elections (Thailand 1974). These same restrictions were maintained until 1991, when the Thai Association of the Deaf and the Council of Disabled People of Thailand (CDPT) led a campaign to abolish these unjust stipulations. The effort led to the repeal of the 1991 Constitution provisions that deprived persons with hearing impairments and illiterate people of their voting rights (Thailand 1991a). The right to stand for parliamentary elections, however, remained unprotected. Under rigorous campaigns by organizations of persons with disabilities led by the CDPT, coupled with the introduction of the 1997 Constitution (People’s Constitution), such restrictive provisions were finally abrogated. The 1997 Constitution was the first constitution ever to assure basic rights for persons with disabilities and to insulate them from any unjust, discriminatory practices(Thailand 1997a). It also entitled persons with disabilities to access public facilities and assistance according to the law. Although the 1997 Constitution has been abolished, its core principles with respect to disability remain largely unchanged with the currently enforced 2007 Constitution, with focus on entitlements of persons with disabilities and accessibility to the welfare benefits scheme, and clarity of stipulation being significantly improved (Thailand 2007b).
The 2007 Constitution does not restrict voting rights and the right of persons with disabilities to stand for elections for a seat in the House of Representatives or the Senate; it also stipulates in the last portion of article 114 that the procedure for selecting a Senator must include the underprivileged and persons with disabilities (Thailand 2007b). Recently, Senator Monthian Boontan who has visual impairments was selected based on this provision. Article 152 also provides that one-third of the committee members in a special committee tasked with drafting a bill concerning persons with disabilities must represent organizations of persons with disabilities, which complies with article 29 of the CRPD.[ii]
In 2015, Thailand ratified the Bali Declaration on the Enhancement of the Role and Participation of the Persons with Disabilities in ASEAN Community.
(7) Encourage the participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of development including their participation in political activities by providing them with equal political rights in the election of the leaders and parliamentarians, both at local and national levels.[iii]
People with Disabilities in Elections in Thailand
Even though the Constitution provides equal rights to the PwDs to participate in elections and political activities, this group of people has still been neglected in most elections. During the elections, there is no clear guideline of assistance for PwD voters and in the past elections, there was no appropriate or adequate facility for them to understand the candidate policies and to participate throughout the electoral cycle, and even to cast their vote with sufficient assistance. In 2016, there are 1,567,571 registered PwDs with the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities in Thailand[iv].
Minorities in Thailand
Thai governments have tried to build a strong national identity based on ‘being Thai’. The emphasis on being Thai is so strong that it is very common to see people from other ethnic groups hide their background.
Apart from the Thai people (77.3% which comprises of 32.2% Central Thai, 26.6% Isaan, 10.6% Northern Thai and 7.9% Southern Thai), the second largest ethnic group in Thailand is formed by the Chinese (10.5%). Chinese have been part of Thai society for many centuries. The Chinese have adopted Thai family names, and almost all Chinese nowadays speak Thai at home. There also has been significant intermarriage between the Thai and the Chinese communities, to the extent that there is not a clear distinguishing line between Thai and Chinese.
The third largest ethnic group in Thailand is the Malay (6.0%). The large majority of Malay people are living in the 4 southernmost provinces (Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla), close to the border with Malaysia.
The fourth largest ethnic group is the Khmer (3.4%), living in Northeast Thailand close to the border of Cambodia. They are looked down upon even more than the other inhabitants of Isaan.
There are over 50 other ethnic minorities in Thailand (3.0%). The largest of these groups is the Karen. Others include the Hmong, the Lahu, the Lawa, the Mon, the Phuthai and the Shan. Most of these ethnic groups are tribal, and listed by the Thai government as ‘mountain people’. They mainly live in villages in the mountainous jungle area along the border with Burma.[v]
Minorities’ Participation in Elections in Thailand
Over 1 million people in Thailand are estimated to have no citizenship. Most of them belong to ethnic minorities or hill-tribe groups in mountainous area in the Northern region, the second major group consists of refugees and migrants from Myanmar and there are also sea nomads living in the Andaman Sea.. They lack basic rights to education, and as well as to participate in political and electoral activities.
In September, 1991, for the first time in Thai politics, four Muslims were elected to the national Parliament under the general elections that resulted in the formation of a coalition government. In the Democratic Party-led new government, headed by Chuan Leekpai, an ethnic Chinese, the Deputy Foreign Minister and Deputy Speaker of the Parliament were chosen. And in December, the same year, the new Thai Constitution recognizes the right of minorities to practice and propagate their languages. It also provides support for the administration of Islamic affairs and the teaching of minority languages. In the past, Thai Muslims had to contend with the rigidly assimilationist policies of successive Thai governments.[vi]