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MAIL OPINION  By Shana Kongmun


Activism in Thailand

I had a conversation with a Thai friend recently and we discussed some of the stories that we have been featuring on the front page of the Chiang Mai Mail recently. Specifically, the story about the village in Chiang Rai that took on the Energy Regulatory commission in regards to illegal issuance of a license for a biomass fuel plant constructed in their village. The Courts ruled in favor of the villagers since there had been no public meeting and the license had been issued without an environmental impact report.
The story about the Mae Taeng villagers who protested a seemingly small amount of corruption by their Mayor, while the fact they are upset over 5,000 baht may seem silly and minor to some, was important in that the villagers took a stand against corruption and realized that what starts small could easily grow big.
My Thai friend was bemoaning the fact that people in Chiang Mai and in Thailand in general don’t usually stand up for themselves and yield to what they consider their karma, shrugging their shoulders and saying “Well, we can’t win anyway.” My friend noted that it was all very well and good that people were doing these things but felt that the win in Chiang Rai was the exception to the rule and felt that usually the people would not win. I pointed out that this is true, not just in Thailand but everywhere. We have a phrase “You can’t beat City Hall” but more and more people are learning that is not necessarily true, in Thailand as well. If the Chiang Rai villagers had not gone to the Courts and filed their complaints then they would still be stuck with a smelly biomass fuel plant that they did not want.
There are other similar stories from around Thailand where the locals say “enough”, in Samut Sakhon villagers have won a round in their years long legal battle against a coal production plant and various local officials. A battle that claimed the life of one of the leading protesters; Thongnak Sawekjinda, who was shot dead in July 2011. However, the villagers persisted and won a key battle in their fight.
While it is tragic that this man was killed, his widow was pleased with the outcome saying she was happy that in the end he had improved the lives of the locals. I am not sure how many people would be willing to give their lives for their beliefs but then it should not be necessary and I hope that what appears to be a renewed interest in making sure these things are done legally and with the people’s well-being in mind continues.

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Activism in Thailand