Last Friday night, with Christmas just a week or so away I felt like having a beer with dinner. Arriving at one of the Mexican restaurants in Chiang Mai old city (The Salsa Kitchen) I ordered a Singha beer, and the waitress responded with what I just about understood to be a barrage of apologies in Thai. She was not allowed to serve me a beer, or any other alcoholic drink for that matter.
I soon remembered that with the Thai elections approaching, there would inevitably be some kind of nationwide alcohol ban in operation. I wandered around to one of the local pubs – a favourite backpacker hangout, and asked a depressed-looking manager what was happening. He responded by telling me that although they could usually carry on selling alcohol to expats and tourists, and the police would turn a blind eye, this year the police had been in twice and were actually sitting out on the road watching all the local restaurants.
On Friday 14th, Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th December no one can purchase alcohol in Thailand – local, expats or tourists – because these are the days that Thais who have registered to vote early will be voting. The second alcohol ban is due to the main elections taking place on Sunday 23rd December. No alcohol will therefore be sold again between 6pm on Saturday 22nd December and midnight on Sunday 23rd December. The publicized reason for this ban is that, particularly in rural areas, local politicians hold ‘voting’ parties where they ply the locals with free whiskey with the aim of buying their vote, or at least ‘coercing’ their vote through getting them inebriated.
The result is that a lot of the bars and restaurants in Chiang Mai (and across Thailand) shut this weekend, and will do the same next weekend. Of course, you can imagine how happy the holiday makers are, arriving in Thailand for Christmas – and I have already heard more than one story of disgruntled tourists ‘speaking their minds’ when being refused a drink.
It is hard to imagine how refusing to sell alcohol to everyone in Thailand for two weekends will really solve the problems of vote-buying and corruption but I suppose we should grit our teeth and try to admire the intention .