PARIT WACHARASINDHU, the 21-year-old nephew of former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, is in the spotlight again with the news that he has become the first Thai to be voted president of the Oxford Union, the largest student society at Oxford University.
“The Oxford Union was founded in 1823 as a small debating society that was based on the principle of free speech. But since then it has grown to become a venue for students of Oxford to have the chance to debate alongside world leaders in every professional field, politics, journalism, acting. And it provides an arena where students can debate alongside and against world leaders on an equal setting,” he said.
Famous speakers invited to the union’s events include the Dalai Lama; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Mother Teresa; the former US presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan; and UK ex-prime ministers; Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher.
Among speakers during Parit’s presidential term were Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai. Parit said he was impressed with the modesty of Jack Gleeson, who gained fame from the role of King Joffrey in the “Game of Thrones” television series.
Topics of discussion
The topics of discussion varied from the necessity of positive discrimination to whether socialism works. Debates about religion draw a lot of attention, he said.
“I think it’s a unique experience for a 20-year-old student like me to have the opportunity to meet and interview the guest speakers. It’s also an opportunity for me to manage an organisation that’s so rich in history and involves so many people working for it. And it is a society that is completely student-run. So in that sense it gives me a very unique experience. I am very grateful for it,” he said, adding he was proud to have been the first Thai voted into the position, which is normally dominated by British students.
Parit, known by his nickname, “Itim”, returned to Thailand during the school break then the news of his position, which he had already completed, spread on social media.
Parit was voted into the position in March last year and took up the presidential post in the Winter term from June to December.
Parit was the first Thai to receive the prestigious King’s Scholarship to study at Eton College in England. The scholarships are given in honour of King Henry VI, who founded the institution in the 15th century.
He is currently in the final year of the University of Oxford’s Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) bachelor’s course, in which his uncle Abhisit also graduated.
Elections for the Oxford Union are held three times a year. In previous years, Parit won positions on its secretary committee, standing committee and was the union’s treasurer.As the president of the Oxford Union, his main role was to organise events which took place almost every day. He would be involved in interviewing and giving guests the chance to speak and debate against and alongside the students of Oxford University.
Keeping “an open mind”
Parit had to administer the staff of over 50 people while the Oxford Union, whose members account for about 70 per cent of all Oxford University students, also has its own building, legal entities and revenue of about 1 million pounds (about Bt54.1 million) a year, which is collected by the students.
Unlike the Oxford University Students’ Union whose executive includes both students and the university’s staff, the Oxford Union is – uniquely- run only by students. Because of the workload of the post, Parit had to take a break from his study during his term as president, which delayed his graduation. But he was content to make the sacrifice.
“When you listen to the debates, your thoughts change all the time as you are convinced by the arguments of both sides. That is really eye opening and gave food for thought,” he said.Despite an interest in politics, he has not decided about a job after graduation in June 2015 because he wants to keep an open mind on his options.
“I always take a step-by-step approach for my future plans [and] I take one step at a time. At the moment I’m going back into my final year of study at Oxford. So I can’t really think beyond that at the moment. I want to go back, study hard and get good grades for a graduate,” he said.“I want to keep an open mind about my options, but one thing for sure is that I would like to return to Thailand and contribute in some way to the country – through whatever profession I choose,” he said.
In the meantime, Parit currently has a job as a tutor for students who want to study in the UK.He refused to talk about the Thai political situation, which is deeply polarised. But he said he wants to see a full democracy where people have the right to rally against the government but at the same time see no need to exercise that right.
“I want to see that, certainly, you [the people] might have a preference for a political party you want to be the government, but you don’t feel that the government misrepresents you so much that you have to come out and protest,” he said.