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
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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