KHON KAEN- This week marks the second anniversary of the coup d’état that ousted the elected Pheu Thai Party government on May 22, 2014, and put Thailand under the rule of the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Under the slogan “Return Happiness to the People,” Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has been promising political reform, a return to democracy, and reconciliation to the deeply divided country.
But the military government has been facing a sluggish economy, international criticism on its human rights record, and wide opposition to the second draft constitution, which is planned to be put to a referendum in August.
People in the Northeast have been found to be the least happy when compared with people in other regions since the NCPO came into government, according to a recent nation-wide poll by Rangsit University.
The Isaan Record talked to people in Khon Kaen city and surrounding districts about the state of the country after two years of military rule. Many were reluctant to talk or refused to give their full names, citing the current political climate that they said bans people from speaking freely.
“The government isn’t doing a good job on the economy. I think it’s because other countries don’t accept that our country is not democratic. The government has done well regarding conflict –people are not going out to the streets anymore. But it is also suppressing many groups [in society] that are struggling with various issues, and these people can’t come out anymore to demand solutions. The government should have more channels for them to voice their demands so that the problems can be addressed directly.” Mr. Thawiwat (45), pharmacist, Khon Kaen City
“It is good that they stopped the chaos; If they hadn’t, people would still be coming out and demanding this and that for themselves. If there are elections, the losing side will come out and create conflict. But regarding the economic situation, things aren’t good right now. Everything is expensive. Because of the drought farmers can’t produce rice and if they grow sugar cane, the plants die and they don’t make any money.”
Mr. Saiyan (43), farmer and coffee vendor, Ban Kho subdistrict, Muang district, Khon Kaen
“The flow of cash in the marketplace isn’t as good as it was previously. But what’s good is that the government has solved many problems very decisively. But that is also causing problems because people can’t express their opinions freely anymore. For example, after we showed our opposition against the bus terminal relocation, we were arrested for violating the [new] act on assembling.”
Phatarawan Imchankonchai (41), grocery store owner, Khon Kaen City
“It’s not good. I want to elect a new government. The one in power was not chosen by the people. They just came in on their own. I want to replace it with a new one.”
Ari Khankuean (74), scavenger, Ban Pet district, Amphoe Muang, Khon Kaen
“I’d call the way the NCPO came into government a ‘disciplined seizure of power’. It wasn’t like the violent coups in the past when people were killed. I think that’s good because the [elected] government back then was powerful but couldn’t really use its power anymore. If the NCPO hadn’t stepped in to put things in order, there could have been bloodshed.”
Mr. Somchai (47), motorcycle repair shop owner, Khon Kaen City
“It is peaceful and things are in good order. But what is bad is that living expenses are growing quite quickly.” Mr. Thongdi (60), Sila Subdistrict, Amphoe Muang, Khon Kaen
“I don’t like this government. They came to power wrongfully. People can’t express their opinions. And then the government ‘invites’ people for a talk at a military base, but I think this should be called an ‘arrest’.”
Mr. Sombat (40), cycle-rickshaw driver, Khon Kaen city
“This government came into power in the wrong way. They don’t let people say anything. I saw it on the news, they take all these people into military camps. I want the government to let people participate [in politics].”
Ms. Nuengruethai (20), student, Khon Kaen City