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I’m a dual citizen, does that give me the right to vote in both countries’ elections?

With Thailand's elections here, I had to seriously consider what I was going to do.

Now more than ever in the U.S., the importance of voting has taken center stage. This holds particularly true for younger populations, whose voter turnout has increased significantly between 2016 and 2018. From Rock the Vote to HeadCount, there are many campaigns urging millennials to cast a ballot. This is for good reason. Voting has a legitimate impact on the realities of voters and there are many cases where a few votes tip the balance.

During women’s suffrage, people died so that young women of color, like myself, could vote in the United States. With so much at stake, there is no good reason not to vote, or so I thought.

In January, my mother registered me to vote by mail in the Thailand election. I am a dual citizen of Thailand and the U.S. and being Thai has been and will always be essential to my identity. However, my knowledge of Thai politics is very limited as I’ve lived in the Chicagoland area for most of my life. I know that we have a King, Royal Family and Prime Minister. I  know the former Prime Minister was convicted of corruption and was exiled, but I had to Google the Thai style of government (it is a constitutional monarchy).

When it came to voting for the Thai government, as much as I wanted to proudly practice my civic duty and wear my imaginary “I voted!” sticker, I had a lot of doubts about it. Among them:

Do I have the right to vote?

When voting in the United States, I feel like I’m voting for my rights, for my friends, for my community and for my country. Having lived in the Midwest all my life, I have a sense of ownership and obligation to it. I do consider Thailand a home, but a second one. Arguably, politics have an impact regardless, but I had never felt the distinguished influence of Thailand’s government myself. As someone who grew up outside the country, I’m wasn’t sure if it was fair for me to vote. The truth is, I have little context on Thai politics and do not feel particularly passionate about it. I have a Thai name and passport, but does that equate to being a true citizen?

How does voting in Thailand even work?

I can write my name in Thai and read some one-syllable words. The actual process of voting seemed daunting. I knew my parents would guide me through it by translating when necessary. However, it’s unlikely I could build an IKEA table with instructions in Thai, so being a conscious and educated voter seemed like even more of a stretch.

Is the time spent trying to figure this out worth it?

I’m busy. My laundry list of complaints on being a young woman trying to balance her career, social life, mental and physical well-being is not the purpose of this article. But the point is, I’m trying to do a lot with a little bit of time, on consistently little sleep.

Honestly, it felt like there were more reasons not to vote than to vote. I voted anyway. Mainly because I knew my mom would give me grief if I didn’t. The effort required in that conversation seemed more demanding than taking time out to vote. I wish I could say I was motivated by duty to my country, but it was more out of duty to my mother. In the end, I decided that I was going to suck it up, sit down and figure it out.

There was a 3-page packet of the 30 parties, each with a number, the party name and the local representative, all in Thai. Those were not one-syllable words that I could easily decipher or copy and paste into Google translate. In addition to her explicit instructions, my mom sent a numbered list of quick notes on the parties based on her research and personal opinions. She made notes on all 30 parties, noting who was against corruption, who was using Buddhist teachings, who focused on women, LGBTQ, education, environment, inequality and economics.

I skipped the ones that are affiliated with the ex-prime minister Thaksin, have religious-based platforms or just didn’t resonate with me. Out of that list, I narrowed it down to five parties:

  • Prachatipat (Democratic Party): Women’s rights, paying for newborns, disabled, elderly. Helping farmers and workers get better pay
  • Rakpunpaprathatthai (Thai Forest Conservation Party): Environmental focus, revive green forests
  • Prachaniyom (Populism Party): Help teachers get out of debt
  • Kakaochaovilai: Help the poor, farmers, anti-corruption, improve education, give money to the elderly
  • Tairaktham (Thai Rak Tham Party): Help people find more jobs, pro-culture, pro-LGBT

Once I narrowed it down, I couldn’t actually Google their names without the manual exercise of trying to type their names into a Thai keyboard. A couple more Google searches later and I could not find a comprehensive list of the candidates and their policies. What I did find was a poll for the top four candidates for Prime Minister. I figured I could go from that list instead. Even with 30 parties, it made sense to choose one who was more likely to win. I could apply the same philosophy of voting in a two-party system, easy enough! Right?

Wrong. Even the four Google results confused me. I would see a face for one party, but couldn’t find that face in the packet. I called my mom to ask who was who and she explained that the faces weren’t the same because we were voting for the local representative of each party, not the Prime Minister. This is where I shamefully admit I was even confused on what position I was voting for.

So, I retracted my plan to vote for one of the four parties, chose one of my five original picks and called it day. At the very least, it was a good learning opportunity.   

I learned a lot about Thai politics through voting and clearly have a lot left to learn. For example–this is the first democratic election since the military coup in 2014. In the United States, our elections are scheduled, intervals of change are promised. In other parts of the world, that is not a given. I’m still unsure about the fairness of the Thai elections or what the implications will result. But I do know voting is a privilege. And I can say that I voted.