Voices from Isaan: a national unity government?

KHON KAEN – The economy is a main concern for Northeasterners as they respond to the proposal of installing a national unity government composed of politicians from the main political parties.

"I like the idea of a national unity government, but I don't want to see any current politicians in there. I'd prefer such a government to be made of neutral people only." - Nikorn Thapchai (56), tuktuk driver. "I don't want the current government to change. The country is peaceful now and there is also less corruption." - Loi Muenwai (65), khanom jin vendor. " I don't think a national unity government is possible. I mean, look at how all the Pheu Thai politicians are being targeted now and some are even being put into prison. The other side has no problems at all. So how can these two sides work together, if one of them is disadvantaged?" - Sisawang Rianthit (57), worker. " I don't see any benefit in a national government and I believe the current government is good enough, especially because it is working for the king." - Sanwhit Puangsri (31), graduate student in agriculture at Khon Kaen University. "A national unity government won't help at all. I support Prayuth's system but obviously his people are not skilled in dealing with the country's economic issues. They should appoint better people." - Somporn Phukrun (52), bus driver. "I'd prefer a democratic government that comes to power through elections, but I really wonder how long it is going to take until we get to vote again." - Noi Khammoon (48), market vendor. "If different political groups would get to agree with each other in such a government, then that would be good, but really I favour whoever manages to improve our economic situation." - Khun Khonson (60), flower vendor. "I don't really care who is in the parliament, we small people have to adapt ourselves anyway. At the moment the big problem is the economy." - Ruangthong Maboontam (53), housewife.
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" I don't think a national unity government is possible. I mean, look at how all the Pheu Thai politicians are being targeted now and some are even being put into prison. The other side has no problems at all. So how can these two sides work together, if one of them is disadvantaged?" - Sisawang Rianthit (57), worker.

Last month, members of the National Reform Council (NRC) and conservative social critic Prawase Wasi floated the idea of a national unity government with a politically “neutral” person serving as prime minister. Government members could either be appointed or drawn from those two parties that win the most votes in an election.

NRC whip Alongkorn Polabutr pointed out that the proposal was not supported by the majority of NRC’s members. The military government’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon dismissed the idea as “Out of question as no one had a mandate to make it happen.” Weng Tojirakarn, leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and Pheu Thai politician alleged  that the proposal was an attempt of the military junta to remain in power by installing a prime minister of their choice

Late last month, Bangkok Poll reported its survey found that a majority of people from all regions, including 53.9 percent in the Northeast, favor a national unity government over a democratically elected government.

The Isaan Record talked to people in Khon Kaen’s city center and on the university campus about the proposal. Many people did not want to share their opinions or refused to give their names, citing the current political climate that they claimed bans people from speaking freely.

Sixty-five-year-old vendor Loi Muenwai does not support the idea of a national unity government. “I don’t want the current government to change,” she says sitting behind her steaming pots and bags of khanom jin noodles. “The country is peaceful now and there is also less corruption,” she says.

For Ruangthong Maboontham, a fifty-three-year-old housewife it does not really matter who sits in parliament.”We small people have to adapt ourselves anyway,” she says. “And right now the biggest problem is the economy,” she adds before walking off to catch a bus to her village.

Noi Khammoon, a forty-eight-year-old market vendor, says that she would only support a national unity government if it could improve the country’s economic situation. “Since the current government took power it has become much harder for me to sell my products and prices have gone up. Everyone around here says they suffer from the bad economy.” As she empties a sack of shallots on a tray, she adds, “I’d prefer a democratic government that comes to power through elections, but I really wonder how long it is going to take until we get to vote again.”

Another market vendor, sixty-year-old Khun Khonson agrees that the improvement of the economy is the critical factor. “If different political groups would get to agree with each other in such a government,then that would be good,” she says. “But really, I would favor whoever can manage to improve our economic situation. Everything has become more expensive and the current government is only working for itself.”

Fifty-two-year-old bus driver Somporn Phukrun supports the military government but harshly criticizes its economic strategy, “Obviously Prayuth’s people are not skilled in dealing with the country’s economic issues. They should appoint better people instead of talking about a national unity government that won’t help at all,” he says.

Nikorn Thapchai, a fifty-six-year-old tuktuk driver disagrees. “I like the idea of a national unity government, but I don’t want to see any current politicians in there,” he says from the backseat of his vehicle. “I’d prefer such a government to be made up of neutral people only.”

“How can anyone be neutral in all of this?” asks fifty-seven-year-old laborer Sisawang Riantit, and comments that such a government would most likely be appointed. “If the military wants to be a real government then they should form a party and compete in democratic elections.”

Sanwit Puangsri, a thirty-one-year-old graduate student at KKU’s Faculty of Agriculture rejects the proposal to create a national unity government. “I don’t see any benefit [in this] and I believe the current government is good enough, especially because it is working for the king,” he says. He acknowledges that under the military government people’s liberties are curtailed but says, “We have to accept this. The government is just trying to solve all the problems that were created by the former government.”