BANGKOK – Thailand’s police have called up all reserve staff for a full show of force ahead of this weekend’s election, as a precaution against unrest and violence from angry, sober alcoholic expatriates during the ban on alcohol sales.
The ban, in accordance with national election law, prohibits retail alcohol sales at stores, bars and restaurants from 6pm Saturday to midnight Sunday. The 36-hour period is traditionally a high-risk period in areas with high concentrations of expats, such as Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok and large swaths of Pattaya.
“Due to the importance of this election, we are taking no chances with expatriate sobriety-related violence,” said a stern National Police Chief Police General Wichean Potphosri. He justified the deployment of over 20,000 additional security officers nationwide as a necessary precaution against “deranged, sober foreigners.”
Additionally, numerous bars and nightlife areas in Bangkok and other cities will be shut down altogether to avoid gatherings of large numbers of non-drunken expats. Wichean has launched a PR campaign encouraging them to stay home on Saturday night “for once.”
Although large-scale rioting by un-intoxicated foreigners is rare, many previous Thai elections have seen small outbreaks of civil unrest, usually by expats who were unaware of the election at all and who reacted badly to being told that they can’t have a drink at their favorite establishment.
“For many of these men, 36 hours without a drink and the company of a rented Asian female represents something unacceptable, terrifying even,” said Noppawan Rangkulan, sociology professor at Thammasat University. “Sobering up means becoming momentarily aware of their graying bodies and emotionally hollow lives. What we think of as an alcohol-free night represents an existential crisis for them.”
Noppawon claims this “sobriety shock” is an actual medical pathology and recommends that hospitals offer free alcohol IV drips during the election weekend.
“Most expats are perfectly reasonable people,” she said. “The few deranged ones that end up yelling at waitresses at Irish pubs, they just need help.”
But according to Election Commission member Prapun Naigowit, much of the problem simply stems from a lack of communication. “Many expats are so isolated from the realities of the country they live in that something as major as an election can slip under their radar,” he explained. “Those who prepare ahead of time can easily get through the weekend by having a case of beer and a few DVDs ready at home.”
The EC has launched an educational campaign by posting messages on Thaivisa.com, reminding expatriates of the alcohol ban and suggesting that they host ‘Election Parties’ in their apartments.
Major grocery chains such as Tops have also joined in the campaign, touting 12-packs of Chang and Singha at their outlets with offers of free coolers as part of their “Stay Home, Stay Wasted” promotion.
Although the EC is confident in their campaign, Noppawan still thinks that planning ahead simply goes against the mentality of the alcoholic in general, and the alcoholic expat in particular.
“The people likely to cause a stir on election day can’t think three hours ahead, much less plan for a weekend,” she said. “You might as well ask your dog to feed himself while you’re on vacation.”