Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, one of the leaders of the Thai political movement, Move Forward, visited Denmark the last week of August and the first week of September 2023 – and fell completely in love with most everything he learned about how the Danish society works.
The Thai delegation had not been invited on a PR trip, Thanathorn said, but had paid all the expenses themselves. His group had, however, received valuable help from the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy in arranging their meetings. They had visited the Danish Parliament, the waste incineration plant in Copenhagen, seen the waste collection system in Roskilde, the city center town planning in Odense, the harbour in Vordingborg, a modern Danish dairy farm, Hyllegaard, and several day care institutions for children aged 9 months to 2 years and 2 years to 6 years.
A week after his return to Thailand, Thanathorn shared his enthusiasm for Denmark and the Danish society with members of the Move Forward party and the general public at a meeting at the SOL Bar & Bistro in Bangkok which was also live reported on Facebook in the evening of Friday 15 September 2023.
Thanathorn, who is educated both in the UK and Switzerland, had decided to visit Denmark in order to study a well working democracy. He emphasized how the Danish people are able to elect their leaders from the local municipal level and all the way up to the government. He liked the way ordinary people can walk in and attend meetings in the parliament or in the municipal council. He also liked how the economic decentralization of Denmark allows for each municipality to make their own decisions how to use the tax payers’ money.
Throughout the meeting, Thanathorn made comparisons between the way the Thai society works and the way things work in Denmark.
“Can you imagine, if we could do like this in Thailand,” was one of his most frequent remark throughout the two hour meeting. An example was the gap in Thailand between the six month maternity leave and the 2 year minimum age for enrolling in a Thai kindergarten. In Denmark, a child can be cared for in a municipal nursery from the moment the 9 month maternity leave is over, allowing the parents to go back to work.
He was also impressed with the way municipalities had reclaimed streets from car traffic to bicycle and pedestrian use with a target of seeing 50 percent of the people using bicycles instead of private cars. Some motorcycles were seen, but they were not dominating and could only drive at max 40 km per hour, he explained. Former parking lots were turned into green spaces, not neatly trimmed parks, but to natural shrubbery and forest habitats. A photo from Odense showed a sign at a bicycle parking slot outside the City Hall with a sign saying “Reserved for the Mayor”.
He was also impressed with the harbour of Copenhagen, which he compared to Klong Toey in Bangkok. The way the water was so clean that people could swim in the water and the harbour front was turned into recreational space where people could sit and enjoy after work. He had been tempted, but admitted that he eventually abstained from trying to swim in the harbour himself.
In all the cities they visited, they saw an abundance of play grounds that were kept clean and inviting and were clearly popular among Danish families with children. “In Thailand, we take our children to the department store,” he compared.
A main theme during the visit of the delegation to Denmark was sustainability in the waste collection system. The delegation visited the “Copenhagen Hill” waste incineration plant which has a unique design allowing for all year skiing from the top on a green plastic covered slope. The hill is actually a district heating plant, burning waste, but designed in a way that gives maximum public benefit. The participants in the meeting questioned whether it really wasn’t smelly on the top, but Thanathorn explained that the visible emission was only pure steam.
In Roskilde, they were shown how the separation of waste was carried out all the way from the home through the collection of garbage to the re-use of recyclables and the disposing of the remaining compostable waste. People were educated in details how to sort the garbage into many more classes of waste than the three we have in Thailand. As for bigger items like used furniture, replaced toilet ware, etc., the people were all well informed where they should dump these at dedicated sites – in contrast to Thailand where people didn’t know how to get rid of it and eventually dumped this kind of garbage on any empty land at night.
One of the participants in the meeting asked skeptically if the delegation had been shown only well working solution – surely, there would be traditional landfill dumpsites for normal mixed garbage – and was surprised to learn that there were no more old style landfill dumpsites left in Denmark.
Another fascination with the Danish way of governance, that Thanathorn shared with the participants, was the way a politically imposed return value on glass and plastic bottles had made people use the collection machines set up all over the city. All manufacturers had to add a return value of 1.50 kr. – about 8 baht – to their products. When the consumer deposited the empty bottle in a collection machine, the 1.50 kroner was returned to the consumer.
“Can you imagine, if we could do like this in Thailand?” he asked again.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was the leader of the Future Forward Party, which was surprisingly popular in the election in 2019. Afraid of the progressive and reformist policies of the party, the junta appointed judiciary dissolved the party and banned Thanathorn from participating in politics for a period of ten years. The party immediately re-established itself as Move Forward party under the leadership of Pita Limjaroenrat and in the election earlier this year, the party returned with an even higher mandate – only to be outmaneuvered once again and cut off by the conservative Thai establishment.
The crowd that was given a heavy dose of Thanathorn’s positive impression of Denmark at the public meeting this Friday did, however, not seem to care much about the prospect of their party having to spending some time in opposition. Instead they clearly shared one of their leaders’ passion for identifying ways to change Thailand to the better.