“The Bangkok Tragedy” refers to the government-backed massacre of members of the red shirt movement, when a military crackdown on protesters from May 10 to May 19, 2010, resulted in at least 94 deaths.
KHON KAEN – Crisis and conflict has been at the center of Thai politics for more than a decade, leading to widespread political polarization. A new party wants to move the country beyond the color-coded divide by introducing direct-democracy measures to increase people’s participation in politics.
“We want to make everyone a politician,” says Chumpon Khrutkaew, founder of the newly established Moderate Party. Proposing to create a digital channel into parliament, he wants people to directly participate in policy-making.
In this interview with The Isaan Record, Mr. Chumpon outlines his views on economic development, social welfare, and the problem of corruption.
IR: What does the Moderate Party stand for?
We are focusing on sustainable development and overcoming the long-standing conflict in Thai society. If each side is only looking to gain victory. it will result in an endless conflict. A method to overcome the conflict is to promote good development that benefits all sides.
The problem with Thai politics is that people are biased towards one side so that they won’t listen to the other. Our party won’t declare itself part of one side and oppose the other. Our party is neither yellow nor red but we won’t tell you where we position ourselves. It shouldn’t be only about yellow or red politics because there is probably much more diversity.
The Moderate Party wants to create a middle ground for everyone to work together and we will provide an example through our work as a political party.
IR: Does this mean the Moderate Party positions itself between a progressive ideology and authoritarianism?
No, it doesn’t mean we are between these two ideologies. It means we don’t lean to a particular side. Instead, we want balanced development. The conflict between the two sides should not obstruct the development of the country. We should respect different opinions and strive to find sustainable solutions [to the country’s problems].
IR: What’s your position on an unelected prime minister?
I don’t agree; it is not democratic. The Moderate Party stresses a democratic system of governance and we want it to move towards a direct democracy.
IR: What do you think about the system of military conscription?
I don’t agree with military conscription but we probably must look at the necessity of having a military in the first place. Is it possible to not have a military? The question is related to the country’s protection so there should be a balanced response.
We still need military conscription but we should adapt the system to give people more freedoms. For example, people should have a say in determining the size of the military and the duration of the military service so it can be more flexible.
IR: What’s your opinion on public protests?
Protests are a vehicle for people’s expression of opinion and this should be supported. But protests should be regulated so that they don’t violate other people’s freedoms.
We want a kind of democracy in that people have rights and everyone’s voices are being heard. But there are ten millions of people in this country so it would be chaos if everyone uses their freedom [of expression] at the same time.
We already have the technology for people to directly vote through their mobile phones. They don’t need politicians to make decisions on their behalf. This is why our party wants to make use of technology.
Before members of parliament vote on a certain issue, we want them to get direct input from the people on how to decide. Our party will set an example in how to use technology for this.
IR: Should people be allowed to elect their own provincial governors?
If it’s appropriate, I support the election [of provincial governors] but we need to consider check and balances. Giving local areas the freedom to work for themselves is good but there might be overlaps in responsibility between areas. That’s why there needs to be mechanisms to coordinate and transmit policies from above. It could be the responsibility of a provincial governor or someone else to create such mechanisms. Provincial governors could then be elected right away.
IR: What political ideology is your economic policy based on?
The economic world isn’t divided along clear lines of left and right politics. Economic policies are enacted to change and might lean towards one side according to social conditions at a particular time. It might be a social welfare state or a capitalist state.
I don’t support policy approaches based solely on socialism or liberalism. This is the meaning of “moderate.” Once we are allowed to convene a party meeting, the direction of our development policies will become clear.
IR: Do you have any specific public welfare programs you plan to implement?
State welfare is a good thing and makes everyone happy but there also needs to be evidence that it can solve livelihood problems.
Our party wants to provide as much state welfare to the people as possible but we haven’t decided on our approach in this field yet.
We definitely want the state to continue providing free education and free health care but it needs to be done in sustainable way. Free health care shouldn’t cause people to be careless about their health so we need to encourage people to take of themselves in the long term.
IR: There are few employment opportunities for people in the Northeast which causes people to seek jobs in other regions. How does your party want to address this problem?
Isaan people don’t find jobs because they don’t have the same opportunities as people in the capital. We must create opportunities for them and also let people create opportunities for themselves. This can happen on the local level and in the communities. For example, strong communities are able to use local knowledge to create projects and opportunities. A example for this in the city is Khon Kaen where local business people have come together and create opportunities through the Khon Kaen Model. It shows that people don’t have to depend on the state. We have to let them fight to create their own job opportunities.
IR: In the management of natural resources, the state tends not see people as stakeholders. This often leads to eviction of people from lands they have lived on for a long time. What’s your position on this problem?
Environmental issues must be viewed in terms of level of importance. The most important is the nation [level] which is more important than political parties. But the nation can only exist in an intact environment. At the same time, people’s livelihoods are also important. So we need to find a balance for these issues.
People should be allowed to live in forest areas if they lead their lives in a way that doesn’t affect the ecosystem. People will love the forest if it provides a living for them.
IR: Many communities have stayed in forest areas before the state declared them forest reserves. At the same, investors are often able to build resorts in these protected forest areas.
If we all agree that the environment is important and villagers are willing to give up their livelihoods because they know it causes environmental damages, the government needs to find new areas for them to live.
A good consciousness is most important. If private companies build resorts even though they know it’s wrong, they shouldn’t do it and the government must not condone the practice.
IR: How do you plan on addressing the problem of corruption?
We want to address the problem head-on which means we need to make corruption a risky business. Those involved must realize that there is a high risk of arrest and severe punishment.
Our party will create a transparent system so that people are informed about financial matters on all levels. To increase the risk of corruption we need to change the laws and increase penalties. If people know of the risks of corruption, they won’t get involved with corrupt activities.
Another point is the creation of a good consciousness among the people. In the past, people often accused others of corruption but they should really have been looking at themselves first. Everyone must help solving the problem of corruption instead of waiting for the state or a political party to solve it for them.
IR: How is the Moderate Party different from other parties and what can people expect from you after the election?
The Moderate Party wants to work on decentralization, decrease economic disparity, and increase people’s participation. We will make everyone a politician by creating tools for the people that give them the opportunity to become owners of their country. Through the use of mobile phones or computers, people will be able to express their opinions and participate in [discussions in parliament] in the capital.
This story was first published in Thai on May 4, 2018. Translated and edited by The Isaan Record.