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Posts from the ‘Khon Kaen’ Category

NEWS IN BRIEF: Khon Kaen Green Market to Open November 7

2014 November 4
by The Isaan Record

Khon Kaen will open a green market this Friday, November 7, from 3 – 7 p.m. at Bueng Kaen Nakhon near the Bua Luang Restaurant. Teerasuk Teekayupun, the mayor of Khon Kaen, is set to speak at the opening of the market.

Government and public health officials, NGOs, farmers, and other interested parties have spent the last two months planning for the Khon Kaen Green Market.

kkgm

The idea for opening a green market came from members of the Khon Kaen Expat Association (KKEA), a public group of foreigners based in Khon Kaen. Josh Macknick, 34, a local business owner, says of the market’s origins that KKEA wanted to be “an active organization rather than reactive, and a green market is something that can be a joint project with Thais.”

Despite being one of the ‘Big 4 Cities of Isaan,’ Khon Kaen is still lagging far behind its smaller counterparts in other Northeastern provinces when it comes to providing people with fresh organic produce.

Until now, local organic produce has only been available through small independent sellers, at TOPS Supermarket, and at green markets in nearby provinces. The market will contain several zones, including an education zone, a fresh produce zone, and a ready-made food zone. Currently, there are 67 booths registered to sell; vendors will be coming from Khon Kaen and surroundings areas, as well as Mahasarakham and Phetchabun.

 

See the Facebook page for directions to the market.

Guest contribution to The Isaan Record by Jenny Vainberg

 

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Khon Kaen Model Raises Questions in the Northeast

2014 June 12
by The Isaan Record

KHON KAEN – Since the May 22 coup d’état, Thailand’s military has tried to sweep the country clean of weapons to quell fears of a violent uprising. But in Isaan, the heartland of the Red Shirts, some of the soldiers’ actions have raised doubts about the military’s intentions. Red Shirts here believe that the military may be wrongly framing peaceful Red Shirts as violent terrorists in a high-profile legal case, which could set the stage for a wider crackdown on Red Shirts in the region.

On May 23, soldiers raided an apartment building in Khon Kaen city and arrested around twenty people allegedly involved in a terrorist plot. The military claims the plot, known as the ‘Khon Kaen Model,’ was designed to incite violence in Khon Kaen. In the following days, they arrested additional suspects in their homes, bringing the total number of the accused to twenty-four.

Soldiers reported that they seized grenades, ammunition, and gas tanks at the site of the apartment building. After interrogating the suspects, the military announced what they found to be the Khon Kaen Model’s master plan: mobilize anti-coup supporters, disarm authorities, force financial institutions to give money to the poor, and declare a nationwide “zero debt” policy.

It’s the kind of story that plays right into the conservatives’ two biggest fears: militant Red Shirts and Thaksin’s populism.

The Khon Kaen Model case preceded the military’s nationwide call to civilians to dispose of all firearms. On June 3, the military ordered that all handguns, legal or illegal, be surrendered or thrown away within a week, or else gun owners risked facing up to 20 years behind bars. According to one 2011 report, there are an estimated ten million civilian firearms in the country, which lands Thailand in tenth place worldwide for the most guns in civilian possession.

Red Shirts and those close to the accused in the Khon Kaen Model case insist it is not a clandestine plan of a militant revolt, as the military claims, but part of a broader campaign for social justice and equality. A relative of one of the arrested explained that the group only gathered that day to discuss Red Shirts’ peaceful responses to the coup.

She and many others interviewed by the Isaan Record asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

A staff member of the apartment building, who saw the arrests take place, also said the group seemed to be meeting peaceably. “In the media, the reports were overblown. What happened from what I saw was they didn’t rent a whole floor, they weren’t staying two months, they just stayed one day, and weren’t even sleeping there. There was never any plan to stay for a long time.” The staff member never saw any weapons enter or leave the apartment building.

A relative of another of the accused described how more than a dozen soldiers arrived at her house in a village outside of the city a few days after the arrest. The soldiers did not produce a warrant, but they searched her entire house. They left without finding any weapons but confiscated only a red hat and a United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) form, she claimed.

Relatives and villagers close to the defendants told Benjarat Meethien, the lawyer of the accused, that soldiers have been searching the homes of at least some of the men awaiting trial. The wives feel threatened by these unexpected visits, and they think their husbands are innocent. “The villagers told me that when soldiers armed with guns enter the villages unannounced, it terrifies them,” said Ms. Benjarat.

Beyond the families of the accused, other Red Shirts around Khon Kaen wonder about the implications of this case. “The news accounts of the ‘Khon Kaen Model’ have gone overboard,” said one Red Shirt organizer, who knows a handful of the men involved in the case. “But the military has never been on our side.” He fears that cases like this one could give credence to more arrests of Red Shirts in the region, even though the majority of Red supporters are nonviolent.

Still, a number of small Red Shirt groups that organize “defensive trainings” have cropped up over the years, which the military could perceive as a threat to their rule. One source explained her anger over the arrests on May 23, but she also described her involvement in an underground defense training that taught her and a hundred others how to use BB guns, in case of attack.

The defendants’ lawyer expects the trial to take place at the end of June. At the time of writing, none of the accused had been released on bail. In the military court system, there are no appeals.

Senate Candidates Campaign Without Politics

2014 March 30
by Sally Mairs
senate rally

Crowds gather at Khon Kaen’s provincial hall to hear senatorial candidates speak.

KHON KAEN—When Komet Teekhathananon took to the stage outside the provincial hall on Thursday, he described his experience as a business owner and a local politician. Mr. Komet is running for senator, and this was his sole chance to speak to voters before Sunday’s senatorial election. But there was one catch: he was not allowed to talk about politics.

“As a senatorial candidate, there are many laws that control what I can say,” said 57-year-old Mr. Komet, whose family owns a marketplace in Khon Kaen. “So it’s hard to explain what I really want you to understand.”

Mr. Komet is one of seven candidates running for senator in Khon Kaen Province. Strict rules aimed at maintaining a non-partisan Senate in Thailand bar candidates from carrying out many common campaign practices, including discussing current political issues.

The few permissible activities include posting billboards with their names and slogans on government offices, and submitting photos and short biographies to be circulated by mail and broadcasted over government radio.

On Thursday, each candidate in Khon Kaen was also given 15 minutes to speak on stage before a crowd of approximately 2,000 people in front of the provincial hall.

Because senatorial candidates are prohibited from discussing political issues, most of their speeches focused on personal qualifications.

Like Mr. Komet, prominent radio D.J. Wan Suwanphong, 75, also addressed the limitations placed on his campaign speech.

“I believe that we still need to amend the constitution, but I am not permitted to speak much on what I want to see change,” said Mr. Wan.

Instead, Mr. Wan discussed his background as a lawyer.  Yet he did finish with a comment that made clear his view of the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling to void the February 2 election of MPs.

“I am afraid that the March 30 election could end up the same as the MP election on February 2,” Mr. Wan said. “If it becomes invalid again, I will be the lawyer that sues whomever invalidates it.”

Mr. Thitinan Saengnak, 53, also gestured towards his political position without being explicit.

“We have to work with people from the bureaucratic system, like the Office of Ombudsman. We have to work with these people. You know who they are and what they believe,” said Mr. Thitinan.

The Office of Ombudsman is one of several government agencies considered to be aligned with the anti-government camp.

“I want to stay with you on your side,” Mr. Thitinan told the Khon Kaen audience. “I believe that we have the same position, the same point of view.”

Other candidates avoided politics and focused on more neutral issues.

Suwit Namboonroeng, age 62, cited a lifelong commitment to democracy and stressed the importance of education.

Forty-seven-year-old Suthon Sornkhamkaew, who has a background in accounting, stressed his personal impartiality.

“I’m totally independent, I am not interested in backing up any color in particular, “ said Mr. Suthon. “I think the most important thing for the senator is to be honest and have integrity.”

Senatorial candidates cannot be affiliated with a political party, so it is especially valuable to have high name-recognition.

“You cannot be just anybody and run for senator,” said Khon Kaen Election Commissioner Thitipol Thosarod. “There are always some unknown candidates who use this situation to introduce themselves to the public, but usually the people who run for Senate are already very well-known in the province.”

Although anti-government protesters have vowed to block any MP election that is held before a series of national reforms are implemented, they say they will not interfere with Sunday’s Senate election. This is likely because the Senate, which holds the power to impeach the Prime Minister with a three-to-five vote, is essential to any effort to oust Prime Minister Yingluck.

As a result of the 2007 constitution, Thailand’s Senate is only half-elected; the other half is appointed by judges and government officials who are widely considered to be members of the anti-Shinawatra establishment.

The committee that appoints senators includes senior leaders from the Constitutional Court, National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), Election Commission, State Audit Commission and a representative of the Supreme Court.

With a strong influence from these agencies, the Senate is expected to back a decision to impeach Prime Minister Yingluck if the NACC recommends it.

The NACC has charged Ms. Yingluck with negligence of duty in overseeing the government’s controversial rice-pledging scheme. The Prime Minister is scheduled to appear before the NACC on March 31, and the corruption commission is expected to announce its verdict early next month.

With the current government hanging in the balance, the Senate candidates elected on Sunday are set to play a pivotal role in determining the course of Thailand’s political crisis.

Law Students File Complaint Against Constitutional Court

2014 March 29
by The Isaan Record
Law students demonstrate in front of of Khon Kaen's Administrative Court.

Law students demonstrate in front of Khon Kaen’s Administrative Court.

Khon Kaen University Law students filed a complaint against Thailand’s Office of the Ombudsman on Monday in regards to the recent Constitutional Court decision to invalidate the February 2 congressional election.

The student-run human rights group, Dao Din, argued that the Office of the Ombudsman did not have the authority to forward the February 2 election case to the Constitutional Court.  They  also requested financial compensation for the cost of traveling to the polls on February 2 and for the retraction of their political right to vote.

“I feel that the court has lost their legitimacy,” said Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a 23-year-old law student at Khon Kaen University and member of Dao Din. “They have made a mistake and created a dead end for Thailand.”

Before filing the complaint on Monday, Dao Din staged a skit in front of Khon Kaen’s Administrative Court mocking the Constitutional Court judges and depicting what they consider to be the court’s “silent coup.”

After the demonstration, members of Dao Din affirmed their commitment to democracy and read the group’s official position on the political crisis that has gradually unravelled Thailand’s elected government. 

“We don’t want a reformed government or one that comes from the military, through the independent agencies, or through any power which overthrows the democratic system by undemocratic forces,” the group’s official statement said.

A group of academics known as the Assembly for the Defence of Democracy (AFDD) also criticised the Office of Ombudsman’s actions on Monday. In an official statement, the AFDD argued that the Office of the Ombudsman can only forward complaints to the Constitutional Court that concern the constitutionality of legal provisions, which they argue the “the holding of a general election” does not fall under.

 

Khon Kaen Promotes Female Leadership

2014 March 8
by The Isaan Record

KHON KAEN—In a run up to International Women’s Day today, Khon Kaen hosted a regional event focusing on the role of women in Northeastern Thai society on March 4. The ceremonies, sponsored by government agencies, featured a market with women entrepreneurs, awards for women leaders, and a keynote speech by former senator, Dr. Krasae Chanawongse.

Dr. Krasae’s speech emphasized education, the role of Buddhism, and leadership, and it drew on a traditional description of a good woman: “Know how to use words, know how to work, know how to be generous.”

Audience members were invited to share their impressions of Dr. Krasae’s speech. One woman said to the audience of 500 overwhelmingly women, “The main idea is that giving, and not receiving, will make you a better person.”

Those sharing were presented with Dr. Krasae’s book, Success is Reachable.

Women from Khon Kaen province were recognized for outstanding achievements in 12 themed areas. Among those receiving awards was Ms. Pithayaporne Sukkho, 47, from Chonnabot district who was recognized for efforts toward “environmental care.” After encountering health problems with chemical-based dyes, Ms. Pithayaporne developed a system to make organic dyes with leaves and flowers. Her entire community has since adopted the method. “If we don’t start now, then there’s no one who will,” she commented about organic dyes.

Ms. Pithayaporne also expressed that women needed to organize among themselves and not just come together when “there is government funding.” She said, “Being more serious about holding women’s events can change women’s lives.”

This year’s annual event is in its twelfth year. Its organizers wanted to focus on family, community and local government, and to build ways for women to step up, become educated, and get involved in public life.

An entrepreneur selling her woven handicrafts outside the meeting hall, Kannika Unkam, 44, from Khon Kaen was more skeptical. “Selling my products doesn’t really empower me. Even though I own my own business I don’t think I am equal to men.”

Ms. Kannika also questioned the choice of asking a man to give the keynote speech. “The speaker should have been a woman. Today is about women’s power, so a woman should have spoken.” As she had come to the event to sell her crafts, she was unable to attend the keynote or awards ceremony.

She noted that the role of women had changed a lot. Before there were no women leaders, she said, “but today we can see that women have stepped into leadership roles like village headperson.”

In 2004 women represented only 5.6 percent of Tambon Organization Administration (TAO) ministers in the Northeast, while in 2011 that number increased to 12.41 percent.

One attendee, a graduate student working on women’s issues at Khon Kaen University, observed that there was very little in the event about the status of women in the Northeast or the challenges facing them. “I expected or hoped to hear about the current status of women and the direction of a women’s movement,” she said. “But today the goal seemed to be to give awards, compliment women, and to show examples. There was nothing concrete about the role or status of women in Thailand.”

She said that Dr. Krasae “didn’t talk specifically about women; he just talked about management. We are still under a patriarchy. Men do everything and they don’t believe in women’s ability.”

In Thailand, statistics show that women still lag far behind men in terms of vying for public office. Ranked at 90 in the world for national public offices held by women by the Inter Parliamentary Union, women accounted for 15 percent of the parliament in 2013. In nearby Vietnam and Indonesia, women held 24 and 18 percent of the seats respectively.

PISA Thailand Regional Breakdown Shows Inequalities between Bangkok and Upper North with the Rest of Thailand

2014 February 21
by The Isaan Record

Guest Contributor: John Draper

As reported previously in The Isaan Record, there are clear inequalities in Thai students’ academic achievement, and these are easily seen in official Ordinary National Educational Test (O-NET) Results by province. These results have been seen to broadly follow ethnolinguistic and class groupings, with Bangkok, home to wealthier ethnic Central Thais, noticeably outperforming other areas and ethnicities. This was visible in the fact that 15-16-year old Central Bangkok students achieved a mean score of 50.6/100% in the Thai language in 2010, compared to a mean of 39.0/100% for the median northeastern province, Mahasarakham – a difference of nearly 12%.

In an article in The Nation on December 5th, 2013, it was revealed that Thai students’ results in the Organization for Economically Developed Countries’ Programme for International Student Tests (PISA) had improved from 2009-2012. This test also looks at the achievement of Thai 15 year olds, with Thailand being one of 65 countries and economies involved.

The 2009 results were 421 in reading, 425 in science, and 419 in mathematics. The recently released 2012 results were 441 in reading, 444 in science, and 427 in mathematics. However, Dr. Sunee Klainin, the manager of the PISA Thailand Project, attributed the higher scores to the performance of demonstration schools and the Princess Chulabhorn’s College schools. She also pointed out that half of Thai students tested did not achieve a Band 3 or higher in mathematics, while around a third did not achieve a Band 3 in science or reading.

What do these scores mean? The definitions of the PISA levels for reading and mathematics are available here. There are six bands for mathematics. Students testing in Band 3 or lower – half of Thai students aged 15 – means they have little problem-solving ability in mathematics.

Likewise, in reading, a third of Thai students aged 15 are not able to relate a text to everyday knowledge and find and link multiple parts of a text.

What about the regional breakdown for Thailand? To date, this has not been included in the PISA 2012 regional data sheet (available here), which lists regional breakdowns for 14 of the PISA countries and economies. In fact, the regional breakdown for Thailand has never been publicly reported in the media. However, a regional breakdown was reported in a technical document published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the ASEAN Secretariat in late 2013.[i] (Also available from a web link on the OECD Centre for Development website, here).

 

Figure: PISA scores in Thailand, by subject and region

Math

Level

Math/BKK

Science

Science/BKK

Bangkok

450

2

-

455

-

Central

400

1

-50

416

-39

Upper North

445

2

-5

449

-6

Lower North

412

1

-38

415

-40

Upper Northeast

420

1or2

-30

422

-33

Lower Northeast

412

1

-38

410

-45

South

397

1

-53

409

-46

National Average

419

 

 

425

Source: The Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST).

Note: PISA scale was set such that approximately two-thirds of students across OECD countries score between 400 and 600 points. Gaps of 72, 62 and 75 points in reading, mathematics, and science scores, respectively, are equivalent to one proficiency level.

 

In math, the average Bangkok student scores half a PISA level higher than almost every other regionally-based student except in the Upper North, where Chiang Mai has been an academic powerhouse for some time. The Upper Northeast fares slightly better than the Lower Northeast likely because it includes the major urban centers of Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. Interestingly, the average Central region student also scores very low compared to the average Bangkok student, and this may be because of differences in the quality of the schools. One possible explanation for the much lower average score for a student in the South is because it includes the war-torn provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani.

In science, there is a similar pattern. The average Bangkok student scores half a PISA level higher than almost every other regionally-based student except in the Upper North and the Upper Northeast, with the Upper Northeast still well behind Bangkok.

Can we correlate the statistics with ethnic identity? It certainly looks like the scores of the Northeast Thailand students can be correlated with the Thai Lao ethnolinguistic identity. In the Lower Northeast, where there are a million ethnic Khmers, the scores are lower, but without a detailed understanding of which provinces are included, it is difficult to say. What is interesting is that the average student from the Central Thai ethnolinguistic identity also scores low outside Bangkok.

One of the standard explanations for these differing scores is poverty. Poverty is certainly a factor in tertiary enrollment in Thailand.[ii] While poverty is also a factor in PISA achievement, the 2012 PISA figures note that the socio-economic background (class) of Thai students has an impact on both performance and the performance gap that is actually better than the OECD averages. Another issue then may be the inequality of access to resources, especially in more rural areas populated by ethnic minorities.

In response to the poor Thai PISA 2012 results, Professor Gerald Fry made five recommendations in an article in The Nation of December 23, 2013. He suggests additional factors in the low scores may be a lack of equity in resource allocation, an emphasis on quantity (buildings and personnel) rather than the quality of people, the lack of a strong reading culture, and a lack of expenditure on Research and Development. He also notes there is the possibility that students may be scoring low because their first language is not Thai. In other words, they may simply not understand the written instructions or how to write the short analyses in Thai required by the PISA tests.

Overall, the Thailand regional breakdown and the country PISA scores make for tragic results. Thailand is a whole PISA level behind the OECD averages of 494 for mathematics, 496 for reading and 501 for science. As also pointed out by Professor Fry in his article, it is also behind Vietnam, a newcomer to the PISA tests and a developing country compared to Thailand’s status as a newly industrialized country.

The gap in PISA levels is the difference between 15-year-old Thai children being able to solve problems or not. And, for the first time we can see from the PISA statistics themselves where those differences are geographically. They are the same kind of differences that can be seen in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Survey results from 2011 for Thai Primary 4 and Thai Secondary 2 students’ scores, as reported in The Nation on December 12, 2012.

There is an urgent need for a public discussion of these regional figures and what they mean for the future of the Thai education system. This public discussion should be constant and sustained until the scores of the children of the Northeast – and those of the other regions stricken by poor results – can equal the scores of the children of Bangkok.

 

About the Author: John Draper is currently a lecturer at the College of Local Administration at Khon Kaen University and is assigned to the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalization Programme (ICMRP; see www.icmrpthailand.org and www.facebook.com/icmrpthailand).

 


[i] OECD. (2013). Southeast Asian Economic Outlook 2013: With Perspectives on China and India. Available at http://books.google.co.th/books?id=c8vri8vPvmIC&pg=.

[ii] Ibid., p. 207.

Isaan Farmers Rally in Support of Government’s Rice Policy

2014 February 18
by Sally Mairs

Rice farmers at Khon Kaen's pro-government rally on Monday.
Rice farmers at Khon Kaen’s pro-government rally on Monday.

KHON KAEN— Rice farmers are taking center stage in the political battle wreaking havoc in Thailand, as the debate shifts to the government’s controversial rice-pledging policy. In Bangkok, hundreds of farmers on Monday besieged Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s temporary headquarters, demanding their long overdue payments for last year’s rice crops. Meanwhile, in the Northeast, rice farmers gathered in the city of Khon Kaen to stage a counter-demonstration in support of the caretaker government and its rice subsidy program.

“We are not protesting about not getting money,” said Charoensab Jampathong, a 65-year-old farmer from Ban Phai district who participated in Monday’s pro-government demonstration. “We came here to support all the government officials who are working really hard to get money for us.”

An estimated 400 farmers gathered in front of Khon Kaen’s provincial hall on Monday morning and marched to nearby branches of the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), Krungthai Bank, and the Government Savings Bank (GSB) to voice their support for the government and its rice-pledging scheme over loud speakers.

“They came here to say thank you to us,” the Director of BAAC’s Khon Kaen province branch, Thanoo Tosajja, said. “This is the first time that has happened.”

Leaders of the pro-government demonstration also met with the provincial governor in Khon Kaen on Monday.

“We told the governor that we support him as a government official, and would like him to communicate to the government that we like the rice-pledging program,” said Bhutdhipong Khanhaengpon, a radio DJ in Khon Kaen who participated in Monday’s rally.

The demonstration of support from farmers in Khon Kaen stands in stark contrast to the activity of farmers in Bangkok, who over the past month have blockaded major highways in several parts of the country, filed a court complaint to claim compensation from the government for delayed rice payments, and on Monday, breached barricades to Prime Minister Yingluck’s temporary headquarters.

The divergent reaction of the Central Thai farmers protesting in Bangkok and their upcountry counterparts is symbolic of larger political rifts dividing the country. Whereas Bangkokians have taken to the streets over the past four months to protest against the government, their Northern and Northeastern neighbors have, for the most part, remained loyal to Prime Minister Yingluck and her social policies.

Both demonstrations by farmers, in Bangkok and Khon Kaen, are in response to the government’s delay in paying 130 billion baht to an estimated one million farmers for last year’s rice crops. The payments have been stalled in part by the caretaker government’s limited borrowing-powers, but are also the result of accumulated losses from the government’s ill-fated rice subsidy scheme.

In 2011, Prime Minister Yingluck’s government implemented a rice-pledging policy under which it purchased rice from Thai farmers at almost 50 percent above the market rate, and reduced exports to the rest of the world in an attempt to spike global prices. The plan backfired when other countries boosted their production to fill the void and unseated Thailand as the world’s number one rice exporter. Now, the government is struggling to sell its premium rice on the market without facing big losses.

A survey from the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce shows farmers earning, on average, almost three times as much money from rice sales as they did before the pledging policy was implemented. According to data from the BAAC, approximately 70 percent of farmers in Khon Kaen province have not been paid for last year’s rice sales. Yet many farmers still applaud the scheme for the tangible benefits it has brought to their lives.

“We don’t have to worry about money anymore,” said Kongsri Matsombat, a 56-year-old rice farmer from Nong Bua Kham Mun Village. “We never thought that rice farming could make us happy like this.”

“I was able to build and repair my house because of the rice-pledging program,” said 46-year-old rice farmer Banjob Chaisaenta.

Waraphon Buapin, 39, said she would still like the policy even if the government lowered its purchasing price.

“If 15,000 baht per ton is too much for the government to handle, we will still be happy even if the price is a bit lower,” said Mrs. Waraphon.

Academics, economists, and global agencies like the International Monetary Fund have voiced concern over the rice policy since its induction in 2011.

Khon Kaen University Professor of Agricultural Economics Nongluck Suphanchaimat says the policy has benefited farmers financially, but the overall program is fiscally unsustainable and has been gravely mismanaged. Instead of interfering with the market, Dr. Nongluck suggests the government end the rice-pledging scheme and focus on subsidizing technological advances for farmers.

“The government should set different strategies to assist  farmers in each region, mainly to reduce costs and focus on rice quality,” said Dr. Nongluck. “For example, the Northeastern farmers need improvements in water resources, farm equipment, good seeds, and quality fertilizer.”

The rice-pledging policy is due to expire on February 28th because the caretaker government does not have the power to extend it.

Looking ahead, the caretaker government hopes to pay farmers through a series of bank loans and a gradual sale of the 17 million tons of rice stockpiled in state warehouses.

Yet between investigations of the subsidy program by Thailand’s anti-corruption agency, the recent collapse of a trade deal with China, and a serious struggle to secure loans from Thai banks, the prospect of repaying farmers any time soon looks grim.

Although a five billion baht loan was secured from GSB on Sunday, this is only a fraction of the money owed to farmers, and the bank has already received a backlash from its labor union and customers.

Yet for the time being, Isaan farmers remain patient.

“I believe that no matter what the Constitutional Court, or any other body against Yingluck’s government tries to do, Yingluck’s government is still going to get formed and then we will get our money,” said Prasit Charoensuk, 66, from Nong Bua Kham Mun Village. “I don’t agree that we should try to protest because it’s only going to put Yingluck’s government in a worse situation.”

In Uphill Battle, Isaan Language Taught in Schools

2014 February 10
by Sally Mairs

KHON KAEN—It has been banned from Thai classrooms for over 100 years, but the local language of the Northeast, referred to as “Thai Lao,” “Isaan,” or often just plain “Lao,” is making a comeback.

Eleven municipal schools in Khon Kaen have started teaching students how to read and write in Thai Lao, thanks to an E.U.-funded project known as The Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalization Program (ICMRP). Two years after receiving a 20 million baht grant, ICMRP has achieved some notable successes, but formidable challenges lie ahead.

Starting last May, Khon Kaen municipal schoolteachers began teaching the script of Thai Lao, known as Tai Noi, to students ranging from grades four to eight.

The principal challenge so far has been most teachers’ unfamiliarity with the written form of the language. Although the majority of people in the Northeast still speak Thai Lao, the literacy rate of the language is close to zero, save for a few elders, academics, and monks. There have been no new major works of literature written in Thai Lao for almost a century, and scholars have just embarked on the complicated process of adapting the antiquated alphabet, Tai Noi, to modern times. As a result, many teachers in Khon Kaen’s municipal schools have recently learned the alphabet for the first time themselves.

“I was trained for only a month before I started teaching my own class,” said Udomsarp Lurngubol, a Thai language teacher at Suansanook Municipal School who started teaching Tai Noi to his seventh grade students this semester. Mr. Udom stopped the class in December to make time for boy and girl scout activities, and he has already forgotten how to write the ABC’s in Tai Noi script.

Mr. Udomsarp said he would like to see the program continue, but he doesn’t feel confident in his ability to teach the subject. “It would be better to have someone else come to my class once a week and teach it than to have a rookie like me who is starting at the same level as the students,” said Mr. Udom.

Some teachers, parents, and children in the Khon Kaen community have asked why it’s necessary to learn Tai Noi script in the first place.

For Professor Chob Desuankok, who studies the history of Northeastern Thailand, teaching children how to read and write in Thai Lao is about more than achieving literacy. It’s about reclaiming the cultural roots of the Northeast.

“People in Bangkok who say that their 300,000 votes are better than one million votes in the Northeast are looking down on our intelligence,” said Professor Chob. “But revitalizing Tai Noi will show that we have our own literature, our own teachings, our own ethics. Our voice will be made equal by this.”

Professor Chob added, “We want our kids to understand who they are, and why they have to keep on being Isaan people.”

Others see the promotion of Thai Lao literacy as way to increase academic results across the board. On national education tests, the Northeast is consistently one of the country’s lowest-scoring regions. ICMRP project officer John Draper said this could be because most Northeastern children are taught in a language that is not their mother tongue.

At this early stage of language revitalization, the teachers in Khon Kaen lack basic resources like an instruction manual on how to teach Tai Noi, or a standard-reference dictionary, which is still being created. Progress has been stalled by disagreement among academics over the spelling of many words, and on issues like whether or not tone marks—which weren’t included in ancient manuscripts, but are used in the spoken language—should be included.

Khon Kaen University linguistics Professor Rattana Chantao doesn’t think it is possible to reach agreement on these issues any time soon, so she has decided to forge ahead on developing a 600-word dictionary for primary school students in Khon Kaen. In her opinion, tone markers must be added to make the Tai Noi script accessible to young people.

“Without tone markers, it’s too difficult to learn,” said Professor Rattana. “Revitalization encompasses many concepts, and I think it means adapting to changes in the culture and the language.”

Although the project relies heavily on backing from the E.U.’s External Action Service, which funds 90% of the project, coordination between the Thai municipalities and the foreign agency has proven difficult.

Mr. Saran Paonariang, who works in Khon Kaen Municipality’s Education Department, said that adjusting to the European style of accounting has been a challenge.

Furthermore, E.U. funding has been temporarily delayed because of uncertainty over an internal audit, said ICMRP project officer Mr. Draper. Mr. Draper attributes the delay in funding to cross-cultural differences between the two agencies.

“The municipalities know little about the E.U., and the E.U. has little experience working with Thai municipalities,” said Mr. Draper. “I would describe the slippage in terms of problems with the socio-political interface that results from any principal-agent contractual relationship between two entities who do not really know each other.”

The delay in funding, as well as numerous changes in staff on both the E.U. and the Thai side of the project, have had an even more detrimental impact on other parts of the program financed by the grant. There has been only marginal progress in the municipalities of Chum Phae, Ban Phai, and Phon, which were tasked with designing and installing signs in Thai Lao, manufacturing traditional Isaan-style school uniforms, and curating an online database of Isaan cultural performances.

This bureaucratic stagnancy is not just a consequence of the difficulties posed by international collaboration. A draft of a National Language Policy, which was approved by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, recognizes Thai Lao as a regional language and supports bilingual education for children of ethnic groups, like many in Isaan, whose mother tongue is different from Central Thai. Yet, all progress on implementing the policy has been frozen since the dissolution of the government in December.

Revitalizing Isaan language literacy is proving to be an uphill battle. But for ICMRP project officer Mr. Draper, the biggest achievement has been a small, but essential one: the creation of a community of activists, historians, and linguists in Khon Kaen who are united around the cause of promoting Isaan culture, language, and identity.

The new sign to the entrance of Khon Kaen University, which was erected last month, captures the budding community-mobilization around this goal. It has the name of the University written in Standard Thai, English, and for the first time, Tai Noi.

“Thousands of people are going to ask, ‘what is that language doing there?” Mr. Draper said. “Sooner or later that is going to have a positive effect on promoting Thai Lao identity and the real history of the Northeast.”

 

 

Slideshow: Khon Kaen Voters Go To The Polls

2014 February 3
by The Isaan Record

On February 2, The Isaan Record traveled around the city of Khon Kaen to hear from voters at the polls. The election proceeded smoothly in Khon Kaen and most parts of Thailand outside of Bangkok and several provinces in the South. Still, a full government will not be formed until elections are re-held in areas where the voting process was disrupted.

[portfolio_slideshow size=large showdesc=true]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs taken by Lydia Kopecky.

Khon Kaen Activists Remain Divided, But Peaceful

2014 January 28
by Sally Mairs

KHON KAEN—Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Election Commission are expected to reach a decision this afternoon on whether or not the February 2 elections will be postponed, but Khon Kaen residents, like Thais across the country, remain divided on their hopes for the outcome. Yet while chaos, and at times violence, has dominated the streets of Bangkok in recent weeks, both sides of the divide in Khon Kaen plan to respond to today’s announcement – regardless of the outcome – calmly and peacefully.

In Khon Kaen, the minority anti-government activists are hoping the elections will be postponed until after the government has undergone significant reform, while Khon Kaen’s strong Red Shirt constituency, which supports the Yingluck government and wants to take the country’s disagreements to the polls, is hoping the February 2 date will remain in place.

The Khon Kaen chapter of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has been holding anti-government rallies at the city shrine every night since January 3 and sending daily buses of anti-government supporters to participate in the Bangkok protests. But the chairman of the group, 58-year-old Khon Kaen resident Kamol Kitkasitwat, said that even if the government decides to go forward with Sunday’s election, the group does not plan to stage any special demonstrations or protests.

“We don’t want to provoke any violence,” said Mr. Kamol. He added that so far, the group’s nightly rallies have not elicited any hostility from Red Shirt supporters.

Mr. Kamol said that if the polls are open on February 2, PDRC activists may demonstrate at voting stations in Khon Kaen to express their position against the election, but they will not attempt to block voters from casting ballots, as was the case in Bangkok on Sunday.

Many members of Khon Kaen’s strong Red Shirt constituency are hoping for an opposite outcome from Yingluck’s 2 p.m. meeting with the Election Commission, but they also do not plan to respond aggressively if the decision does not go their way.

Forty-year-old Khon Kaen radio DJ Sanya Simma said he is afraid that if the election is postponed today, it might be a long time before the Thai people get another chance to vote. Yet he and another Khon Kaen radio DJ, 45-year-old Bhutdhipong Khanhaengpon, said a decision to delay the election would not be enough to turn them against the government.

“We are ready to listen to the reason that the government gives us,” said Bhutdhipong. “If the reason is good enough, or even not good enough, we will listen and think.”

Pheu Thai party list candidate Thanik Masripitak said he is worried that a postponement of the election will disillusion Pheu Thai voters, but that he will continue to campaign for the party regardless.

“We will have to campaign harder to explain to our supporters why we have to postpone,” said Mr. Thanik. “We hope that our supporters will keep understanding.”

The stark contrast between how the conflict is playing out in Bangkok versus Khon Kaen was illustrated when advance voting on January 26 was either blocked entirely or disrupted at 49 out of 50 polling stations in Bangkok, but completely unimpeded in Khon Kaen and other areas in the northeast.

For the time being, political activity in Khon Kaen, and across much of the Northeast, appears far less confrontational than in Bangkok.

“There will be no violence in this province because most of us know we have different political ideologies and beliefs,” anti-government leader Mr. Komol said. “We can say to one another, ‘I understand that you have a different idea, but we can still live together.’”