The villagers shared their thoughts on everything from the rice pledging program, to revoking Abhisit’s university degree from Oxford.
TRS: Why did you first get involved in the Red Shirt movement? What was the main issue?
We were appalled by the coup in 2006. The amaat refused to accept the people’s choice. The vast majority of us are Thaksin supporters, about 95%, and we started seriously mobilizing in 2008 when we came to Bangkok as Red Shirts to join in the protests.
TRS: Why was Thaksin your choice?
We support Thaksin because he was the first politician to care for the needs of the rural and urban poor. He could identify with people. His policies such as the 30 Baht health scheme, the Village Development Fund, and the rice guarantee program had a major impact on our quality of life.
TRS: What was the real impact of these policies for your village?
First, we got a good price for rice. Second, when you went to the hospital it was essentially free. And third, the million baht scheme allowed all of us to get together and work out how to develop the community. We managed by ourselves, so there was less corruption in that respect.
Previously, nearly everybody was in debt to the Bank of Agriculture for 30,000 to 100,000 baht. The million baht scheme helped us invest in our businesses without having to be at the mercy of manipulative loan-sharks.
We would break it up into 10,000-20,000 baht shares. One woman sold vegetables at the market in town. She received 20,000 baht. One invested in raising fish, another used it to invest in raising cows.
After the coup, the economy went foul and lots of people fell back into debt.
TRS: Since the coup, what has happened to those policies?
Under Thaksin we received about 11baht/kilo of rice, but under Abhisit it was about 5baht/kilo. Now it’s about 12baht/kilo. That’s something that we really feel in our daily lives. Under Abhisit you couldn’t feel anything. He’s a good speaker but, he can’t do anything right.
The Abhisit government didn’t do anything about drug trafficking, whereas Thaksin really took care of the drug problem. There were a lot of drugs before Thaksin, but then their prevalence dropped after he came into power. It went back up again after the coup.
Every village has a drug dealer and every village will tell you the same thing. Now there are less drugs, fewer people addicted, and fewer kids starting. Kids went from staying up late and taking drugs, to playing sport. But it was getting worse under Abhisit.
Many of us did. We had two vehicles that would take people down in rotating shifts so that we could maintain our lands. The Pheu Thai helped with gas costs. But we went because we wanted to. We paid for everything else.
Our village had already declared itself “Red” before anybody came from the Pheu Thai.
TRS: Was anybody hurt from this area in the 2010 crackdown?
Nobody was killed or injured from their village during the 2010 crackdown, but everybody witnessed the military’s violence. We never imagined they would do something like that. We were only asking for our rights back. They didn’t come politely; they came rough. We were just asking for elections.
The military should not have done that. Besides, most soldiers are from Isaan.
TRS: What about the ‘Men in Black’?
We didn’t see any. Those among us that were there on April 10th had already left before the violence broke out in the evening.
TRS: Do you think that the victims will get justice?
We believe there will be justice in the end, but we have no trust in the Thai courts. The International Criminal Court is our only hope for justice. We place a lot of hope in [UDD lawyer] Robert Amsterdam. We hope he will succeed.
In the meantime we will have to continue to fight the amaat for justice, but they won’t give up easily. The Yellow Shirts closed airports and attacked policemen, but their cases drag along in court. The Red Shirts do something and the courts take it up immediately.
TRS: What are the main issues that you care about?
First and foremost, the 2007 Constitution needs to be abolished.
Second, good agricultural prices are essential to our livelihoods and we need to feel secure in our finances.
Third, we want elections for Tambon [sub-district] leaders.
Fourth, we want people to be held responsible for the deaths in 2009 & 2010.
Finally, we want Thaksin to come back.
Democracy is elections. Make it right. Let people make their own choices and have a government that responds to them.
We have to be under the same law. No double standards. The Democrats abused the lèse majesté law. A prison term of 3-15 years is appropriate for murder, not lèse majesté. We just want our democratic rights respected. Nobody is against the monarchy here.
There is something we don’t understand. Isn’t Oxford democratic? If so, Oxford should take back Abhisit’s diploma.
TRS: How do you feel about the current Yingluck administration?
We really appreciate what they are doing for the whole country. But the rice mortgage scheme really helps all the households in this area. Everybody is affected by rice in some way. Even the Yellow Shirts in our village—yes there are a few—support the rice pledging policy, but not the government. The difference between 5 and 12 baht is just as real for them.
Otherwise, the Women’s Development Fund is also an important initiative that we look forward to reaping the benefits from. So far, we’ve had elections for the committees.
TRS: Are there any issues that you feel the government hasn’t been responsive to?
They need to get serious about justice and accountability. Get people in jail!
Decentralization would be a good thing with elections at all levels. Governors should definitely be elected. Now it is so likely that they come from the amaat, because they aren’t elected by the people.
Given the recent attacks on the rice pledging program, there should be committees overseeing individual rice mills to ensure that there’s no corruption.
TRS: How do you stay informed?
Most of us in the village now have satellite dishes and listen to Red Shirt radio. Our eyes are open. We can analyse things ourselves and we consult amongst ourselves. We know what is right and what is wrong.
TRS: Do you think there will be another coup?
Anything can happen. But we would be ready to head down to Bangkok and protest it.