For Chuan the bouquet, for Samak the brickbat
July 7, 2000
Guess who's the favourite politician of Thai teens? It's Chuan Leekpai, the prime minister. According to a recent joint survey conducted by Ogilvy & Mather and Chulalongkorn University's faculty of communication arts, Chuan scored the highest figure - 60 per cent of the 1,100 respondents.
These respondents, aged between 13 and 19 years old, were sampled representatively from Phitsanulok in the North, Khon Kaen in the North East, Kanchanaburi in the Central region, Nakhon Si Thammarat in the South, and Bangkok.
Details were not provided as to why Thai teens were so fond of the prime minister, who is presently caught in a political trap. Yet his fatherly nature, honesty and benevolence is respected by Thai teens when they look for a role model.
A surprise from the survey was Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecom tycoon, coming a distant eighth as the teenagers' favourite politician. This was a revealing because Thaksin could easily have been their role model, since he is a symbol of the telecom age, which the teens identify so comfortably with. Most of the teens surveyed are hooked into computers and spend as much as three hours a day surfing the Internet.
Ogilvy & Mather has branded Thai teens the "chit-ch@t gener@tion", because of their keen involvement in interactive communication via the Internet. Doing their talking online is a way for Thai teens to socialise or express themselves. They no longer spend as much time as in the past watching TV, listening to the radio or reading their favourite magazines.
Unfortunately, Thai teens are spending most of their time in chat rooms talking nonsense. This is one typical example of a chat room conversation:
Where have you been?
Out to eat
Who else? My parents.
For such a long time?
We ate a lot.
What did you eat?
I'm too lazy to tell you.
C'mon tell me.
No, I won't.
A disturbing finding from the survey is most Thai teens no longer read. This is due to the poor foundations of Thai culture and the education system. The survey made it clear the Thai education system has failed to create a reading habit among Thai students. When they surf the Net, they go to chat rather than searching for information or building up their knowledge.
"Homework (in Thai education) is created merely to check if students can answer questions correctly. The less the older generation likes to read, the same can be expected of teen behaviour in searching the Internet for information," the survey indicated.
Thaksin's aura has failed miserably to impress Thai teens according to this particular survey, although they are the children of the telecom age. But he should not be too sorry about it.
Paveena Hongsakul and Sudarat Keyuraphan, both female candidates in the race for Bangkok governor, were neck-and-neck in the survey. Paveena did well, probably because she turns up with a TV camera every time there is a criminal case involving child abuse. The next most favoured politicians were by Bhichit Rattakul, the incumbent Bangkok governor, Anand Panyarachun, the former prime minister, and Abhisit Vejjajiva, the handsome Democrat MP and Prime Minister's Office minister.
For reasons unclear, US President Bill Clinton managed to make it into the survey, overtaking both Thaksin and Samak Sundaravej, the leading candidate for Bangkok governor according to other surveys. Thai teenagers probably like Clinton being the world's most powerful leader. They obviously think the Monica Lewinsky affair did not destroy his presidential standing. Samak's poor showing among the teens should not come as a surprise, because he looks like a man who really hates children.
Politically, this survey should not be taken seriously, as most of the teens don't vote. Only 300 teens were sampled in Bangkok. Of this number, 100 were in the 17 to 19 age group. Samak should be happy he is faring strongly among eligible Bangkok voters. It's the opinion of the eligible voters that counts.