By Donlawat Sunsuk

From a candlelight vigil held after the Constitution Court disqualified Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from being an MP, followed by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party, the three-finger salute, white ribbons, and blank paper now seem to be the main symbols of the latest political movement rippling across the kingdom.

While the impartiality of the parliament and the justice system are seen as questionable, social media has turned into a key platform for the voices of those yearning for “new politics.” It’s also a tool able to mobilize a huge number of people to gather together in a “flash mob” within a few hours and then disassemble shortly after.

It’s completely changed the mechanism of protest rallies that we’ve been accustomed to in the past. 

The “Sisaket Won’t Tolerate Dictatorship” movement is another result of the current wave of political awakening.

The Isaan Record went to Sisaket to talk to those involved amidst the nationwide blooming of popular movements.

The group gathered inside a commercial building. We met a diverse group of people–from high school students, vocational students, university students, to ordinary civilians.

The group’s official Facebook page serves as an information channel, including about where the next rally would be. As of Nov 21, it had 13,000 followers.

Pornsit “Tor” Raksasap, a group member who’s a lawyer and former Future Forward Party MP candidate, said the group was formed by people who’ve been frustrated with Prayut Chan-ocha’s administration and the hopelessness of the rules laid by the 2017 Constutition.

Pornsit said several smaller groups at the beginning of this year started the movement, then came together as a bigger group in July. Group leaders have been able to efficiently organize political activities and aid activists harassed by the authorities. They had their first rally on Aug 2.

Since then, they’ve regularly been organizing political activities in parallel with the movement taking place in Bangkok. 

A youth calls for a real democracy

The movement has inspired many young students to take to the stage and deliver speeches just like older people who’ve become drawn into the political fight in Sisaket.

The Isaan Record spoke with a 15-year-old member of the group who wished to remain anonymous, who had suffered harassment by authorities and teachers and wanted to limit further risk. 

“I’ve been expressing my political opinions in school since early this year, and I wanted to join others from outside my school,” this student said. “Once I joined, I could see that everyone has the same purpose, sharing questions about the existing nationwide problems and yearning for the same ultimate goal–achieving a real democracy.”  

Similarly, vocational students of the province had already carried out symbolic actions on their campus by wearing white ribbons and displaying the three-finger salute before joining the group. They all share the same goal–demanding democracy and equality.

A student displaying white ribbons from a Sisaket vocational school to express her political views in support of the People’s Party 2020.

Rampant inequality

Coming from outlying districts, many high school and college students had moved to study in Sisaket city. They can clearly see the disparity between the urban and rural areas, especially in terms of transportation systems, healthcare, and the national budget allocation.

The young members of the group said they’d learned about democratic principles from the internet, especially Twitter. They’ve been encouraged to raise questions about events in history, such as the 1976 Thammasat massacre. Such reconsiderations have triggered them to rethink about the monarchy’s role in the event.

What they read has “enlightened” them because it was so different from what they had read in school textbooks.

 They all hope that “if politics is good, everything will be good.” There’s little surprise as to why they support the three demands of the national movements: Prayut and the government must resign, the constitution must be written by the people, and the monarchy must be reformed according to democratic principles.

Members of all stripes

The movement in Sisaket has a broad range of people involved. A group of five near-30-year-old men from Rajabhat University volunteered to oversee security and act as guards. One such man, who identified himself only as Ang, is a member of this group. He said he had been waiting for something like this to happen for years. He said he decided to join immediately after seeing an invitation on Facebook.

“I don’t agree with the regime that creates inequality in society as it is right now, whether nationally or locally,” he said.  

Alongside these young men are many members of the LGBT community who make up most of the core leaders. In fact, the group has opted for a logo that has the colors of the rainbow, symbolizing a movement for gender equality. 

Pornsit, a member of the LGBT community himself, said that the predominance of LGBT in the movement was due to approaching membership in a completely open-minded way. They accept everyone regardless of their background. They embrace different opinions, therefore the group has become more diverse. Everyone can defend their point of view through reason, regardless of their gender. They have already organized a Pride Parade and erected a gender-equality flag in Sisaket, which made them feel that the province is now a safe zone for all genders.

“I’d never thought in my lifetime that there’d be a student protest in Sisaket. I see this as a hope for Thailand’s democracy,” said Pornchai Maneenil, a Sisaket human right lawyer.

Hope of Thailand’s democracy 

Pornchai Maneenin, a 64-year-old human rights lawyer, has been through it all. As a member of the older generation who’d fought for the communist movement back in the day, had joined the 1992 Black May protest, and had taken part in the 2010 redshirt protests, he looks at this movement with admiration and hope.

He said the current political movement is totally different from those in the past. Although the redshirts also voluntarily took part in the fight in 2010 based on a shared ideology, he admitted there had been more effort in staging the rally and assembling people then. The movement in 2010 also had a clear set of protest leaders.

“This latest movement is a political enlightenment,” Pornchai said. “The youths can think for themselves and are confident when speaking out about the root cause of these problems.” 

Smiling, he admitted, “I’d never thought in my lifetime that there’d be a student protest in Sisaket. I see this phenomenon as a hope for Thailand’s democracy.”