By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Though Thailand has been run by a military regime since the May 22 takeover, the Sim Democracy board game is still being used in Thai high schools to teach students the basics of democracy.
The game was created in 2011 as part of an initiative by the Bangkok office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNS) with support from the Election Commission (EC), which also organises competitions.
Sim Democracy was presented at the recent World Forum for Democracy (WFD) in Strasbourg, France, organised by the European Council under the theme “From Participation to Influence: Can Youth Revitalise Democracy?”
Pimrapaat Dusadeeisariyakul, FNS project manager for Thailand, said EC had been reluctant to promote the board game for the first three months after the coup, but has now reintroduced it.
The EC has ordered some 1,200 new boxes of Sim Democracy, developed by a Thai under the FNS initiative, for distribution at schools. The boxes cost about Bt500 each.
“So far the military hasn’t told us to stop. The EC was very worried [after the coup], but we haven’t done anything to challenge the [military] government,” Pimrapaat said.
Calling it a tool for learning how to resolve differences democratically, Pimrapaat said students in Bhutan, South Korea, Myanmar and Malaysia had different reactions to situations.
“When Thai children quarrel, a couple of them may say – ‘I stage a coup!’ – [because] we’re used to it. It’s just an immediate reaction,” Pimrapaat told the international audience in France last week. “In South Korea though, the students would ask if they can impeach the president or change the rules.”
When asked if there’s a coup option in the game, Adam Rainer, former FNS director in Bangkok, responded in the affirmative. There is a situation card in the game where a military coup can be staged, but with a caveat, he said.
“A military coup in our game does not restart democracy, it only destroys,” said Adam. “The Thai military regime hasn’t stopped our game, but we’re under the radar.”
But when participants asked how effective the game was in inculcating democratic values among students, both presenters acknowledged that there was no hard and fast proof.
Silvia Golombek, senior vice president at Youth Service America, asked if students playing the game had moved to the third phase in behavioural change, which leads to the democratisation of classroom management and developing a democratic way of life.
Mishka Martin, youth adviser at Action Aid Uganda, asked how the game responded to the new political context under the military regime and how it helped defend democratic values.
“It’s too early to say how it would impact society at large,” said Pimrapaat. “Thai youth are not interested in democracy, but the game helps them debate and discuss it openly.”
Adam, however, was more apologetic.
“If the game could have prevented the military coup from happening, I would have been so happy. This is an investment in the future.”