Thai political history turned a new page on Sunday when a transgender candidate won a provincial election. The result became a media phenomenon that drew attention across the country, and spread across the world.
News outlets from Japan, Germany, Mexico, USA and the UK all published reports about the landmark result.
“Nan people voted for me, showing that Thai people respect human rights,” Nok Yonlada – or Kirkkong Suanyos, as she is named on her ID card – the new Nan Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO) member-elect, said in an enthusiastic interview with The Nation.
Nok got 3,808 votes, while her rival, Pawat Sattayawong, followed with 3,659 votes. The unexpected result made her the first transvestite to get elected in Thai political history.
However, her political pathway was no bed of roses. She worked very hard, as she is new to politics and ran as an independent against a former municipality member who got support from the chairman of the Nan Provincial Administrative Organisation. So, it’s possible that being a fresh face was a reason she was elected, besides her policies.
“My policy was clear that PAO members have legislative power to balance the administrative branch against corruption, while the other candidate’s campaign was only to support the administration,” Nok said.
Nok is also president of the Trans Female Association of Thailand and a well-known activist for transgender and homosexual rights. She became well-known for her work starting the Sister’s Hand Project which offers free surgery for Gender Identity Disorder patients.
However, being a transvestite became an issue which her rival verbally attacked Nok on, when she stepped up to compete in the poll. But it turned to her advantage, as people disliked the war of words.
“I can’t deny what I am and I don’t feel anything about being attacked. But when the result came, I appreciated the open-mindedness of Nan people,” Nok said.
Asked if she had concerns about working with the 23 men elected in the other zones in Nan province, she denied it vigorously.
“I wouldn’t let it enter my mind,” she said, adding that she believed she could work with others who didn’t vote for her, as she sought office with sincerity.
In her campaign projects, Nok focused on flooding problems, local tourism promotion and issues such as the Asean Economic Community, technology and others, but did not touch on homosexual rights, which she has fought for over many years. She said that was not necessary, as she will remain in her position as president of the Trans Female Association.
“Pushing the law for homosexual rights – I can do it in the name of the Trans Female Association. But for my political future, I want to push for laws on human rights, and I may run to be a member of Parliament.
“Human rights is not only about homosexuals, but also means patients, the elderly and racism. But all in all, I will decide later after the PAO member term ends,” she said.
Nok had a sex change operation to become a woman at the age of 16 and was named Miss Alcazar in 2000. Besides her beauty, Nok has had a successful life. Aged 30, she runs jewellery and satellite-TV businesses and is a PhD candidate in social science at Ramkhamhaeng University.
She desires to serve the country and benefit society, adding in a joking tone that she doesn’t have a husband and kids to take care of.
She is now waiting for Election Commission endorsement within 30 days, before entering the PAO. During this time, she has another delicate matter to consider.
“Personally, I want to wear a female official uniform, as I am already a woman, inside and outside – but this is not going to be easy, as the law does not guarantee transgender rights yet.
“I will have to talk to the administrators before the term starts, as I don’t want this to be a big issue on my first day as a PAO member,” Nok said.