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Posts from the ‘Politics’ Category

Opposition to Military Coup in Khon Kaen

2014 May 25
by The Isaan Record

KHON KAEN—On May 24, the second full day after the overthrow of the caretaker government by a military coup, there was a greater military presence in Khon Kaen, as well as signs of resistance to the  National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). In the span of three hours, at least three independent anti-coup activities took place around Khon Kaen, including two at Central Plaza shopping mall and one at Khon Kaen University.

On May 23, it was reported that about 100 soldiers were visible midday at key intersections of the city. Yesterday, military security appeared to be significantly heightened, with as many as an estimated 500 soldiers in the city and almost 100 posted outside of Central Plaza alone.

At approximately 5 p.m. on May 24, witnesses say a student group was halted by the authorities at Central Plaza. At least six of the students were reportedly detained. Shortly after, a loud altercation between two female activists and military authorities ensued, attracting a large crowd of onlookers inside the front entrance. The incident only quieted down after officials assured the activists that the students had been released.

At that same moment, another group of protesters attempted to unroll an anti-coup banner reading, “No to the Coup Constitution of 2007. Bring Back the 1997 Constitution.” Military officials wrestled the banner away from protesters and confiscated it.

One onlooker shook her head and said, “The coup will never end, it has happened more than fifteen times [in Thailand] already.”

Ms. Suratda, a thirty-seven-year-old small business owner, expressed frustration, saying that she thought a lot of people in Khon Kaen are unhappy about the coup but are too afraid to come out.

Ms. Chawthip, a forty-nine-year-old owner of a tutoring center, said, “I don’t like the coup.” More people would be protesting, she said, but “we are afraid of guns. Soldiers have guns, but the people don’t.”

Military officials at the scene refused to make any comment to The Isaan Record.

A second protest group relocated to a restaurant in the mall where they displayed a sign that read, “Get out military, give back democracy.” This declaration led military authorities to rush and intervene. A protest leader refused to accompany authorities for talks elsewhere, prompting a military official to sit with the leader at an adjoining table in the restaurant.

A member of this group said their protest was to bring back democracy. “Our demand is for elections and equality of all votes regardless of who the person is. We don’t want a constitution that further limits democracy. The people have to be the sovereign power.”

A third group had travelled down from Namphong District and had planned to assemble at the park across from Central Plaza. They were unable to carry out their demonstration due to confusion between the various protest groups. The leader of this group said, “The age of dictatorship is over. Any advanced country is democratic, like Japan, Germany, or the US.”

Thailand is rated in the top eight countries in the world for number of coups; it is once again caught in the vicious cycle of coups, new constitutions, elections, and now another coup, he explained.

A fourth protest group met at Khon Kaen University’s Faculty of Law. It included members of the student activist group Dao Din, as well as several members from the Namphong group. Together they performed a Thai version of The People’s Song in front of a bust of Pridi Phanomyong whom they recognize as the “Father of Thai Democracy.” The performance was recorded and will be posted on social media outlets.

Mr. Jatupat, a leader of the group, said the goal of the video is to encourage people to be brave. “In this situation, we have to wake up the people; this is a song for those who are oppressed.”

There were other signs of opposition to the coup in the city. Along Chonnabot Road outside of Khon Kaen University, one piece of graffiti showed a broken peace symbol and the words, “Resist the Coup.” Another said, “MILITARY: Don’t Mess [in politics].”

None of the groups protesting in Khon Kaen seemed to be connected to the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). Many, however, identified themselves as red shirts or as sympathetic to the UDD cause.

There appeared to be little coordination between the groups yesterday. Among those protesting, there was some surprise to see other groups protesting as well.

Yesterday’s anti-coup activities come in the wake of twenty-one people who were arrested for allegedly preparing violent acts in Khon Kaen on May 23, as reported by the Mass Communication Organization of Thailand (MCOT).

There is reportedly an anti-coup protest scheduled for 4:30 p.m. in Khon Kaen on May 25.

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Senate Candidates Campaign Without Politics

2014 March 30
by Sally Mairs
senate rally

Crowds gather at Khon Kaen’s provincial hall to hear senatorial candidates speak.

KHON KAEN—When Komet Teekhathananon took to the stage outside the provincial hall on Thursday, he described his experience as a business owner and a local politician. Mr. Komet is running for senator, and this was his sole chance to speak to voters before Sunday’s senatorial election. But there was one catch: he was not allowed to talk about politics.

“As a senatorial candidate, there are many laws that control what I can say,” said 57-year-old Mr. Komet, whose family owns a marketplace in Khon Kaen. “So it’s hard to explain what I really want you to understand.”

Mr. Komet is one of seven candidates running for senator in Khon Kaen Province. Strict rules aimed at maintaining a non-partisan Senate in Thailand bar candidates from carrying out many common campaign practices, including discussing current political issues.

The few permissible activities include posting billboards with their names and slogans on government offices, and submitting photos and short biographies to be circulated by mail and broadcasted over government radio.

On Thursday, each candidate in Khon Kaen was also given 15 minutes to speak on stage before a crowd of approximately 2,000 people in front of the provincial hall.

Because senatorial candidates are prohibited from discussing political issues, most of their speeches focused on personal qualifications.

Like Mr. Komet, prominent radio D.J. Wan Suwanphong, 75, also addressed the limitations placed on his campaign speech.

“I believe that we still need to amend the constitution, but I am not permitted to speak much on what I want to see change,” said Mr. Wan.

Instead, Mr. Wan discussed his background as a lawyer.  Yet he did finish with a comment that made clear his view of the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling to void the February 2 election of MPs.

“I am afraid that the March 30 election could end up the same as the MP election on February 2,” Mr. Wan said. “If it becomes invalid again, I will be the lawyer that sues whomever invalidates it.”

Mr. Thitinan Saengnak, 53, also gestured towards his political position without being explicit.

“We have to work with people from the bureaucratic system, like the Office of Ombudsman. We have to work with these people. You know who they are and what they believe,” said Mr. Thitinan.

The Office of Ombudsman is one of several government agencies considered to be aligned with the anti-government camp.

“I want to stay with you on your side,” Mr. Thitinan told the Khon Kaen audience. “I believe that we have the same position, the same point of view.”

Other candidates avoided politics and focused on more neutral issues.

Suwit Namboonroeng, age 62, cited a lifelong commitment to democracy and stressed the importance of education.

Forty-seven-year-old Suthon Sornkhamkaew, who has a background in accounting, stressed his personal impartiality.

“I’m totally independent, I am not interested in backing up any color in particular, “ said Mr. Suthon. “I think the most important thing for the senator is to be honest and have integrity.”

Senatorial candidates cannot be affiliated with a political party, so it is especially valuable to have high name-recognition.

“You cannot be just anybody and run for senator,” said Khon Kaen Election Commissioner Thitipol Thosarod. “There are always some unknown candidates who use this situation to introduce themselves to the public, but usually the people who run for Senate are already very well-known in the province.”

Although anti-government protesters have vowed to block any MP election that is held before a series of national reforms are implemented, they say they will not interfere with Sunday’s Senate election. This is likely because the Senate, which holds the power to impeach the Prime Minister with a three-to-five vote, is essential to any effort to oust Prime Minister Yingluck.

As a result of the 2007 constitution, Thailand’s Senate is only half-elected; the other half is appointed by judges and government officials who are widely considered to be members of the anti-Shinawatra establishment.

The committee that appoints senators includes senior leaders from the Constitutional Court, National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), Election Commission, State Audit Commission and a representative of the Supreme Court.

With a strong influence from these agencies, the Senate is expected to back a decision to impeach Prime Minister Yingluck if the NACC recommends it.

The NACC has charged Ms. Yingluck with negligence of duty in overseeing the government’s controversial rice-pledging scheme. The Prime Minister is scheduled to appear before the NACC on March 31, and the corruption commission is expected to announce its verdict early next month.

With the current government hanging in the balance, the Senate candidates elected on Sunday are set to play a pivotal role in determining the course of Thailand’s political crisis.

Law Students File Complaint Against Constitutional Court

2014 March 29
by The Isaan Record
Law students demonstrate in front of of Khon Kaen's Administrative Court.

Law students demonstrate in front of Khon Kaen’s Administrative Court.

Khon Kaen University Law students filed a complaint against Thailand’s Office of the Ombudsman on Monday in regards to the recent Constitutional Court decision to invalidate the February 2 congressional election.

The student-run human rights group, Dao Din, argued that the Office of the Ombudsman did not have the authority to forward the February 2 election case to the Constitutional Court.  They  also requested financial compensation for the cost of traveling to the polls on February 2 and for the retraction of their political right to vote.

“I feel that the court has lost their legitimacy,” said Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a 23-year-old law student at Khon Kaen University and member of Dao Din. “They have made a mistake and created a dead end for Thailand.”

Before filing the complaint on Monday, Dao Din staged a skit in front of Khon Kaen’s Administrative Court mocking the Constitutional Court judges and depicting what they consider to be the court’s “silent coup.”

After the demonstration, members of Dao Din affirmed their commitment to democracy and read the group’s official position on the political crisis that has gradually unravelled Thailand’s elected government. 

“We don’t want a reformed government or one that comes from the military, through the independent agencies, or through any power which overthrows the democratic system by undemocratic forces,” the group’s official statement said.

A group of academics known as the Assembly for the Defence of Democracy (AFDD) also criticised the Office of Ombudsman’s actions on Monday. In an official statement, the AFDD argued that the Office of the Ombudsman can only forward complaints to the Constitutional Court that concern the constitutionality of legal provisions, which they argue the “the holding of a general election” does not fall under.

 

Isaan Farmers Rally in Support of Government’s Rice Policy

2014 February 18
by Sally Mairs

Rice farmers at Khon Kaen's pro-government rally on Monday.
Rice farmers at Khon Kaen’s pro-government rally on Monday.

KHON KAEN— Rice farmers are taking center stage in the political battle wreaking havoc in Thailand, as the debate shifts to the government’s controversial rice-pledging policy. In Bangkok, hundreds of farmers on Monday besieged Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s temporary headquarters, demanding their long overdue payments for last year’s rice crops. Meanwhile, in the Northeast, rice farmers gathered in the city of Khon Kaen to stage a counter-demonstration in support of the caretaker government and its rice subsidy program.

“We are not protesting about not getting money,” said Charoensab Jampathong, a 65-year-old farmer from Ban Phai district who participated in Monday’s pro-government demonstration. “We came here to support all the government officials who are working really hard to get money for us.”

An estimated 400 farmers gathered in front of Khon Kaen’s provincial hall on Monday morning and marched to nearby branches of the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), Krungthai Bank, and the Government Savings Bank (GSB) to voice their support for the government and its rice-pledging scheme over loud speakers.

“They came here to say thank you to us,” the Director of BAAC’s Khon Kaen province branch, Thanoo Tosajja, said. “This is the first time that has happened.”

Leaders of the pro-government demonstration also met with the provincial governor in Khon Kaen on Monday.

“We told the governor that we support him as a government official, and would like him to communicate to the government that we like the rice-pledging program,” said Bhutdhipong Khanhaengpon, a radio DJ in Khon Kaen who participated in Monday’s rally.

The demonstration of support from farmers in Khon Kaen stands in stark contrast to the activity of farmers in Bangkok, who over the past month have blockaded major highways in several parts of the country, filed a court complaint to claim compensation from the government for delayed rice payments, and on Monday, breached barricades to Prime Minister Yingluck’s temporary headquarters.

The divergent reaction of the Central Thai farmers protesting in Bangkok and their upcountry counterparts is symbolic of larger political rifts dividing the country. Whereas Bangkokians have taken to the streets over the past four months to protest against the government, their Northern and Northeastern neighbors have, for the most part, remained loyal to Prime Minister Yingluck and her social policies.

Both demonstrations by farmers, in Bangkok and Khon Kaen, are in response to the government’s delay in paying 130 billion baht to an estimated one million farmers for last year’s rice crops. The payments have been stalled in part by the caretaker government’s limited borrowing-powers, but are also the result of accumulated losses from the government’s ill-fated rice subsidy scheme.

In 2011, Prime Minister Yingluck’s government implemented a rice-pledging policy under which it purchased rice from Thai farmers at almost 50 percent above the market rate, and reduced exports to the rest of the world in an attempt to spike global prices. The plan backfired when other countries boosted their production to fill the void and unseated Thailand as the world’s number one rice exporter. Now, the government is struggling to sell its premium rice on the market without facing big losses.

A survey from the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce shows farmers earning, on average, almost three times as much money from rice sales as they did before the pledging policy was implemented. According to data from the BAAC, approximately 70 percent of farmers in Khon Kaen province have not been paid for last year’s rice sales. Yet many farmers still applaud the scheme for the tangible benefits it has brought to their lives.

“We don’t have to worry about money anymore,” said Kongsri Matsombat, a 56-year-old rice farmer from Nong Bua Kham Mun Village. “We never thought that rice farming could make us happy like this.”

“I was able to build and repair my house because of the rice-pledging program,” said 46-year-old rice farmer Banjob Chaisaenta.

Waraphon Buapin, 39, said she would still like the policy even if the government lowered its purchasing price.

“If 15,000 baht per ton is too much for the government to handle, we will still be happy even if the price is a bit lower,” said Mrs. Waraphon.

Academics, economists, and global agencies like the International Monetary Fund have voiced concern over the rice policy since its induction in 2011.

Khon Kaen University Professor of Agricultural Economics Nongluck Suphanchaimat says the policy has benefited farmers financially, but the overall program is fiscally unsustainable and has been gravely mismanaged. Instead of interfering with the market, Dr. Nongluck suggests the government end the rice-pledging scheme and focus on subsidizing technological advances for farmers.

“The government should set different strategies to assist  farmers in each region, mainly to reduce costs and focus on rice quality,” said Dr. Nongluck. “For example, the Northeastern farmers need improvements in water resources, farm equipment, good seeds, and quality fertilizer.”

The rice-pledging policy is due to expire on February 28th because the caretaker government does not have the power to extend it.

Looking ahead, the caretaker government hopes to pay farmers through a series of bank loans and a gradual sale of the 17 million tons of rice stockpiled in state warehouses.

Yet between investigations of the subsidy program by Thailand’s anti-corruption agency, the recent collapse of a trade deal with China, and a serious struggle to secure loans from Thai banks, the prospect of repaying farmers any time soon looks grim.

Although a five billion baht loan was secured from GSB on Sunday, this is only a fraction of the money owed to farmers, and the bank has already received a backlash from its labor union and customers.

Yet for the time being, Isaan farmers remain patient.

“I believe that no matter what the Constitutional Court, or any other body against Yingluck’s government tries to do, Yingluck’s government is still going to get formed and then we will get our money,” said Prasit Charoensuk, 66, from Nong Bua Kham Mun Village. “I don’t agree that we should try to protest because it’s only going to put Yingluck’s government in a worse situation.”

Early Election Results Show Drop in Voter Turnout

2014 February 3
by The Isaan Record

Voting in Thailand’s general election proceeded without disruption in 89 percent of constituencies yesterday, including the entirety of the Northeast, but initial results show voter turnout in Isaan to be significantly lower than the rate in 2011.

Although not all advanced ballots have been counted due to interferences by protesters last week, preliminary results show that only 56 percent of eligible voters in the Northeast voted on Sunday, compared to the 72 percent that voted in the last general election in 2011.

Yet, these election numbers reveal a higher turnout rate in the Northeast than in the Central and Northern regions of the country, which had turnout rates of 42 percent and 45 percent respectively.

The turnout rate in Isaan ranged from 72 percent in Nongbua Lamphu Province, to 43 percent in Sisaket Province. Results for all other Northeastern provinces can be viewed here.

An official announcement of election results will be delayed due to the obstruction of voting in many parts of Bangkok and the South, say Election Commission officials. In addition to blocking candidate registration in a number of constituencies and disrupting early voting last week, anti-government protestors halted voting in 69 out of 375 constituencies on Sunday. By-elections in those constituencies are required by law to be held within three weeks.

With the main opposition Democrat party boycotting the election, the ruling Pheu Thai party is expected to win by a landslide.