Maria Poonlertlarp, 28, became Miss Thailand Universe on 29 July 2017.
During the global round on 26 November of the same year, in Las Vegas, a judge asked her, “What do you think has been the most important social movement of your generation, and why?”
She replied, “I think the most important social movement, so far, is that we’re having an aging population. So the most important movement in our time is definitely the youth. So the youth is the future. The youth is something we have to invest in because they are the ones who are going to look after the earth that we live in.”
Maria finished in the top five.
Often in her Instagram Stories and tweets, she discusses the environment and other social concerns. Of late, she makes headlines and her name top-trends on Twitter for her display of support for the student protestors fighting for democracy in Thailand.
Historically in Thailand, it is uncommon for celebrities to express political opinions. When they do so, it would be in support of the military regime. To show support for democracy is considered taboo and dangerous to their career.
However, as society is changing and the movement for democracy is growing, Maria is among the first celebrities to stand with the pro-democracy movement.
Why do you choose to make public your support for the democracy movement?
I felt the situation was unjust, and I had to do something about it.
In the beginning, were you worried about backlashes?
I was definitely concerned. I was scared of a lot of things. But the fact that I was scared proved to me that there’s something wrong. We shouldn’t live in fear.
Should celebrities express political opinions?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a celebrity or what profession you are. We are all in this together. Politics affects our everyday life, so we should use our voice to push society forward. I am a person, a human being in this society, and I care about our future. If I see something that isn’t right, I should use my platform to say something or do something about it.
Why are most Thai celebrities reluctant to express political opinions?
It’s quite normal that celebrities would want to stay clear from politics because it has affected their job in the past, and they are quite scared. It affects work; a lot of brands here don’t want to work with celebrities who have strong opinions about politics.
But I think it’s time this changes. We should take part in this society together.
Have you had any brands canceling your contracts because you’re speaking up about politics?
There’s a price to pay here when you voice your opinions, especially about the government. I’ve had two brands canceling on me, and that’s just a price I have to pay. I also don’t want to be involved with brands or individuals who allow injustice to happen. So I don’t take back on anything that I do. It’s important that I do so.
Do you believe all citizens have the right to express political opinions, including ones that differ from yours?
Everyone has the right to express their opinions. We live in a society, and there is always going to be diversity. We have to be open to that. I think it’s important that we try to understand each other.
Do you agree with the protestors’ three call core demands?
Stop harassing the people?
I think it’s just basic human rights to not be harassed, whether it’s from the government or anybody.
Rewrite the constitution?
It’s important to rewrite the constitution as it’s not inclusive and there’s a clear double standard going on.
Dissolve the parliament?
Very important. We’ve seen a lot of injustice going on in Thailand and it’s time to change. People want equality, justice, and transparency.
What message do you have for the protestors?
Looking at what’s going on right now, there’s a lot of hope that things are going to change for the better. My message for them is just to be careful and remember to be open to discussion for different opinions.
What message do you have for those who oppose the protesters?
There’s no right or wrong here. I would just like to ask them to try to understand the other side or what we’re fighting for. Don’t fight with hate, fight with love, and hopefully, we can have a middle ground as we all love this country. We all want to move forward together. Spread love, not hate.
Where would you like to see Thailand in five years?
It’s important to remember that a healthy society can only happen if we have a healthy environment. So I hope that all leaders, not just in Thailand, but around the world, work towards that and understand that. We have to make policies to support society and the environment. We can’t help this society without a healthy environment – that needs to go hand in hand.