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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.

 

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Court Annuls February 2 Poll, Khon Kaen Responds

2014 March 23
by Sally Mairs
Activists erect a banner on Khon Kaen's Democracy Monument that says, "Here there stands only a ‘monument’ but no ‘democracy,’ which has now disappeared. RIP democracy."

Activists erect a banner on Khon Kaen’s Democracy Monument that says, “Here there stands only a ‘monument’ but no ‘democracy,’ which has now disappeared. RIP democracy.”

KHON KAEN—Student activists in Khon Kaen wrapped a black banner around the city’s Democracy Monument on Saturday to condemn the Constitutional Court’s annulment of the February 2 election.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court judges ruled in a 6-to-3 vote on Friday to nullify the election because of a constitutional clause that requires voting to be held in every part of the country on the same day. Voting was not held in every constituency on February 2 because anti-government protesters prevented candidates from registering in 28 districts in southern Thailand.

The ruling raises many questions about how the country will resolve the political stalemate that has left it without a fully functioning government for months. The court’s decision may also set a troublesome precedent in which entire elections can be voided if protesters succeed at blocking voting in a single district.

Voting in the 28 constituencies that were unable to field candidates on February 2 was expected to take place at a later date, but the court’s ruling requires a new election to be held countrywide.

The Election Commission has not announced when the new poll will take place but said it could more than two months from now.

With a complete legislature even further from being formed, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s status on the line as she faces impeachable charges from the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NAAC), Thailand’s judiciary branch is emerging as one of the most powerful players in the country’s political crisis.

“I think the [Constitutional Court] has trampled on our democracy just to get rid of this government,” said 18-year-old Chongphithack Namlao, who helped organize Saturday’s demonstration. “We cannot exchange the whole democratic system simply to chase away the current government.”

Activists took turns speaking over a loudspeaker to a small crowd gathered around the shrouded monument in Khon Kaen.

“We are not Red Shirts or Yellow Shirts,” announced a student. “We are dressed in black to say that our democratic system is dying.”

A Red Shirt rally in protest of the court’s ruling was also planned for Saturday in Khon Kaen, but it was canceled at the last minute, said radio D.J. and Red Shirt leader Bhutdhipong Khanhaengpon.

Mr. Bhutdhipong said that many Red Shirt supporters in Khon Kaen are angry over the election’s nullification, but they don’t want to cause any additional problems for the already beleaguered caretaker government.

“We are thinking more than we did in 2010 because we don’t want to lose anybody on the streets anymore, and if we do anything under this government it might just give them more trouble,” said Mr. Bhutdhipong.  “For now, we are just waiting. If something else happens, like a coup or an attempt to replace this government with an unelected one, that will be the last straw.”

“If the UDD needs them, the people here are ready to join.” added Mr. Bhutdhipong, in reference to the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, a Red Shirt political group whose leaders have made increasingly militant remarks in recent weeks.

In addition to uncertainty over when a fresh poll will be rescheduled, there is concern over how the government will avoid another invalidated election if protesters decide to blockade polls again.

Legal expert and political commentator Verpat Pariyawong expressed worry over the precedent that Friday’s court ruling could set.

“The reasoning of the court is paving ways for anyone to have the power to nullify an entire election simply by obstructing candidates from registering in a single district,” said Mr. Verpat.

Although the protests in Bangkok have dwindled over the past month, Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the opposition movement, vowed before a crowd of supporters on Thursday to obstruct any attempts to hold a new election before national reforms are implemented.

Anti-government leader Kamol Kitkasitwat, the chairman of Khon Kaen’s PDRC chapter, reiterated the necessity of carrying out reforms before a new election is held.

“Everyone needs to accept that we have to reform,” said Mr. Kamol. “People in Khon Kaen should watch and listen to what happens in Bangkok. If anything happens that we don’t want to see, we are going to have street rallies again.”

The Democrat Party, which boycotted the February 2 poll, has not yet said whether it will participate in the rescheduled election.

 

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.

Demonstrators Campaign to End the Freeze on Democracy

2014 February 22
by The Isaan Record

KHON KAEN—Three thousand people and Governor Somsak Suwansujarit of Khon Kaen came together yesterday afternoon to show their support for the electoral system of Thailand. Frustrations continue to rise in the Northeast following escalating violence in Bangkok and the stalled election results from February 2.

Activists from Khon Kaen primary schools, district offices and labor groups waved signs demanding, “Stop Freezing Democracy” as they gathered to demand a functioning electoral system. Many of the representatives from the 17 district offices claimed similar peaceful campaigns would be held throughout Thailand if reconciliation does not come soon.

The Provincial Office of Khon Kaen assisted in organizing the event after residents made multiple requests for action to support democracy.

Governor Somsak shared his support for the demonstrators as well. “This campaign is to encourage the solving of Thailand’s problems through democratic practices,” he said. “I want elections to be completed so that Thailand can create a new government.”

As the speech drew to a close, the participants organized into a parade and marched through the streets. Village headman Kaewluechai Sawati of Bueang Niam explained that he was here “to organize against the mob in Bangkok and to campaign for the importance of democracy.”  Wearing his government uniform, he explained that he and his colleagues wish to be recognized as civil servants of the Tambon Administrative Organization (TAO) fighting for peace in Thailand.

While the campaigners marched out of the courtyard of the provincial hall, Opart Kusanhia stated that he is nervous for the outcome of Thailand. He came out today to show his desire for reconciliation within Thailand through a democratically elected government with the King as the head of state.

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Photographs taken by Sara Stiehl.

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.”

 

 

Early Election Results Show Drop in Voter Turnout

2014 February 3
by The Isaan Record

Voting in Thailand’s general election proceeded without disruption in 89 percent of constituencies yesterday, including the entirety of the Northeast, but initial results show voter turnout in Isaan to be significantly lower than the rate in 2011.

Although not all advanced ballots have been counted due to interferences by protesters last week, preliminary results show that only 56 percent of eligible voters in the Northeast voted on Sunday, compared to the 72 percent that voted in the last general election in 2011.

Yet, these election numbers reveal a higher turnout rate in the Northeast than in the Central and Northern regions of the country, which had turnout rates of 42 percent and 45 percent respectively.

The turnout rate in Isaan ranged from 72 percent in Nongbua Lamphu Province, to 43 percent in Sisaket Province. Results for all other Northeastern provinces can be viewed here.

An official announcement of election results will be delayed due to the obstruction of voting in many parts of Bangkok and the South, say Election Commission officials. In addition to blocking candidate registration in a number of constituencies and disrupting early voting last week, anti-government protestors halted voting in 69 out of 375 constituencies on Sunday. By-elections in those constituencies are required by law to be held within three weeks.

With the main opposition Democrat party boycotting the election, the ruling Pheu Thai party is expected to win by a landslide.

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.

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Photographs taken by Lydia Kopecky.

New Voices on the Khon Kaen Ballot

2014 February 1
by Sally Mairs

KHON KAEN—Thailand’s highly anticipated general election is set to go forward tomorrow, despite the uncertainty that has shrouded the February 2 snap election from the start. In Khon Kaen, this uncertainty has led to a quieter campaign season than normal, and it has also opened up new spaces for smaller political parties in the race.

It was not until earlier this week that Prime Minister Yingluck officially ruled out postponing the February 2 date, and lingering questions remain about how results will be tallied with 28 constituencies still lacking registered candidates, and thousands of people having been blocked from casting their advanced ballots last week.

As a result, Jukkarin Patdamrongjit, one of Khon Kaen’s incumbent Pheu Thai candidates, is running a very different campaign than he did in 2011. His posters are smaller, he has fewer canvassers, and his leaflets don’t include any points about policy. Mr. Jukkarin stressed that this year’s campaign is solely about the act of voting.

“For this election, the Pheu Thai Party’s only goal is to get past February 2,” said Mr. Jukkarin. “Then we will be able to see how many people voted.  It doesn’t matter who they vote for, because simply voting means they disagree with Suthep.”

Pheu Thai’s landslide victory in the last general election and the party’s solid support base across the Isaan region make Mr. Jukkarin almost certain to be reelected.

Yet, that doesn’t mean other MP candidates in Khon Kaen aren’t out on the campaign trail too. In fact, several new parties are using this election to build name recognition and position themselves for success should the country’s unpredictable political turmoil play out in their favor later on.

The Cooperative Power Party (Palang Sahakorn) is fielding three candidates in Khon Kaen, and it is running on the promise to provide farmers with more financial support and protection through an expansion of Thailand’s cooperative system.

Suparerk Putposri, the Cooperative Power candidate running in Khon Kaen’s zone 2, said he does not expect to win this election, but suspects that the country’s unstable political climate might open up an opportunity for him soon.

“I think it is likely we will have another election in the next 6 months,” said Mr. Suparerk. “Or, if the Pheu Thai party runs into legal problems and the candidate is stopped from getting the seat, I might be the next candidate in line.”

The two-year-old New Democracy Party, which consists primarily of teachers and is focused on empowering the rural poor, is also preparing for the potential decline of Pheu Thai.

New Democracy MP candidate Surachai Hanchin said he suspects that Pheu Thai’s stronghold in the Northeast will begin to weaken soon, and hopes that his party will be able to fill the vacuum.

“Somebody needs to be there for the rural people,” said Mr. Surachai. “We will be the smaller political party that they can access.”

Another small party fielding candidates in Khon Kaen is hoping that its neutrality in the country’s political conflict will help rally support.

“We understand this crisis,” said Pooncharas Thatdi, the People’s Monthly Party candidate for Khon Kaen’s zone 1. “We are the neutral party that people can rely on. We will not take sides.”

Only a year in the making, the People’s Monthly Party is founded on implementing a system in which children receive a 15,000 baht deposit in their bank account every month starting on the day they are born.

Other parties fielding three or more candidates in Khon Kaen include Chart Pattana, Bhumjaithai, and the People’s Voice Party. In total, of 12 of the country’s 53 political parties have MP candidates running in Khon Kaen Province, though only Pheu Thai has a candidate running in each of the province’s ten constituencies.

There will be 2,671 voting units set up in Khon Kaen Province tomorrow, and the local Election Commissioner, Thitipol Thosarod, said he expects the election to be orderly.