Voices from Isaan: Boost incomes and improve education, voters say


CHAIYAPHUM AND KHON KAEN – On March 24, people across the country will go to the polls to elect a new government after almost five years of military rule. Voters in the Northeast, the country’s largest and most populous region, will play a key role in determining the outcome of the election.

Since 2001, a majority of people in the region have supported parties affiliated with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck.

A recent poll from Khon Kaen University’s E-Saan Poll suggests the region’s electoral landscape has not changed significantly since the last election in 2011.

Conducted on February 9 – 10, the poll found that 44.8 percent of the 1,108 respondents plan to vote for Pheu Thai Party, followed by political newcomer Future Forward Party (21.2 percent), and Thai Raksa Chart (7.5 percent). The military government’s proxy party Palang Pracharat Party received 7.4 percent.

This week, The Isaan Record talked to dozens of people in Khon Kaen City and Chaiyaphum’s Phu Khiao District about what policies they want to see and what parties they support.

Many remain unsure who to cast their ballot for but most said they won’t vote for parties supporting Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Almost all want the new government to boost the economy and raise incomes. University students stressed the need to address educational inequality and improve the standards of schools and universities.

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“Whatever helps poor people. I want policies that will help grassroots people. The parties haven’t ever really focused on people at this level. They don’t really care about us. The government wastes taxes and they don’t do anything to help build my community. They also don’t come talk to us. I think they should have one member of parliament for each district. As it is now, our representatives just pass over our community.”

“I don’t know yet. But it needs to be a party that will talk to grassroots people and farmers, one that helps raise people’s incomes and cuts the investment cost of sugarcane so people can more easily make money from it.”

Num, 56, convenient store owner in Phu Khiao District, Chaiyaphum

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In the last few years I haven’t had a baht left in my purse. I want policy that increases production and helps people sell their products at a good price. The military says the economy in Thailand is good but every city is doing bad. Before the coup it was good but then got worse and worse. Now everyone is suffering.”

I want a democratic party, one that takes care of the people. It needs to be a party that hears the voice of the people, one that improves the economy at all levels, and helps people progress.”

Nongnut Sangsuna, lottery ticket seller in Phu Khiao District, Chaiyaphum

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“Incomes are bad right now so we can’t make a business out of anything. I want policies that will help the economy with things like investment, selling, and the cost of living. The economy has suffered many losses and [agricultural] production has fallen for a long time.”

“I haven’t chosen a party yet, because I haven’t seen the benefits [they offer] yet. I’ve heard about proposed policies, but I need to think it over first. I’d choose a party that supports democracy, not the military, because the military government brought us into the current situation.”

Poi (left), 30, fruit seller in Khon Kaen City

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“When Thaksin [Shinawatra] was around the economy was good, but now it’s so weak. The military government hasn’t really accomplished any goals. I want economic policies that will bring me happiness, that will give me enough money to spend.”

“I think I will vote for Pheu Thai because their policies will give us enough money to live.  Under the military government, the economy has never been good. There is a lot of corruption; it benefits the rich, but it hurts me.”

Sing, 53, clothing shop owner in Khon Kaen City

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I think the main issue for the middle class and poor people is education. Rich people can send their kids to study outside their city, at international schools or at schools with strong, reputable degrees. But for middle class families, they’re only able to send their kids to government schools. These schools are overcrowded, class rooms have 50 to 60 students, sometimes almost 100 students. So the education students receive there is insufficient. I think this is related to a lack of funding from taxes.”

“I’m interested in the Future Forward Party because I’m part of this new generation which needs to develop the nation in a way past generations have not. But I’m hesitant about the party too. People might think the party is too new, and they might not know the how to develop the country. There are also concerns that [Future Forward leaders] don’t have enough experience in politics.”

Nam, 24, Biblical Studies student in Khon Kaen City

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“Incomes are not high enough right now. So I think the most important policies are economic. Policies to improve the cost of living, the prices of things we sell, and boost the people’s purchasing power. The economy is related to everything. If we get a government that takes care of the economy then I will be much better off.

“I would choose a party that supports democracy, like the Future Forward Party. Villagers will most likely choose what they know–the Pheu Thai [Party]. As for Future Forward, I think they will receive votes from university students.”

Premruedi Thiphakonwong, 48, frame shop owner in Khon Kaen City

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“Most importantly, policies should support families because if families are doing well and have enough money, then their children will have more opportunities.”

“I’m not sure which party I’ll choose yet. I’m interested in Pheu Thai and have supported them before. I have also heard the Future Forward Party has progressive policies. I like policies of the Thaksin era, but I haven’t followed the policies of the military government. Based off what I remember when I was a little kid, I liked Thaksin because the economy was doing well. My parents had a good enough income to afford a car and a house.”

Phongphat, 26, fried chicken seller in Khon Kaen City

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“Incomes have dropped a lot for people and farmers. The price of agricultural products should increase, just a little bit. It’s important for the government to take care of the elderly too, because the elderly population is increasing very quickly. But we definitely need policies that help farmers and their incomes. The costs of daily goods has increased a lot, while the price of agricultural products has fallen.”

“Maybe [I’ll choose] the Palang Pracharat Party or the Chat Thai Pattana [Party], I don’t really know which one is good. It’s difficult to decide because their policies haven’t come out yet. They haven’t said what they are going to do or how they will help people.”

Somrak Manotham, 53, watch seller and farmer in Khon Kaen City

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“At this time incomes are very low. If you look around you’ll see the markets around here are empty. Before, the markets were full. Now you might only see 20y to 30 sellers. I want policies like Thaksin’s rice subsidy scheme. I don’t believe what the current regime says at all. As far as I remember, I have never elected a dictatorship government. People do not like this government. I’m someone who likes democracy.”

“I support Pheu Thai! The party follows the policies of Thaksin. His policies helped to care of the people, it supported families, and free college education. He also created and built so many things. Thaksin is someone who used every baht well. Not many people were in debt at that time. Under this [current] government, many people must have gone into debt.”

Phothama Pornchanachai, 67, in Khon Kaen City

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“Policies for Isaan should focus on farming because it’s a region that is made up primarily of farms. The majority of people here live in rural areas and not in the city, so we should focus on this group. Today there are problems in farming with management, and a lack of education, as education levels in most farming communities is quite low. There’s also high educational inequality between communities. Kids in the cities and those outside don’t receive the same education.

“I think I’ll choose Future Forward. They’re interesting because their ideas show they have a good perspective on how things are changing from the old ways, and they know how to bring in modernity. They have interesting policies. They also seem to know how to handle a budget. The budgets of the other parties are too bloated which shows that they don’t know how to develop the country.”

Phimpaphai, 19, Business Administration Student at Khon Kaen University

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“I think the most important policies for the middle class and the poor are those that improve quality of living. The policies of the military government do not reach the people. They are improving roads and building a fancy new rail line, but people don’t have enough food to eat. Right now what little we have to eat leaves us hungry.”

“I don’t know what party I’ll choose because I don’t know which would actually do something that reaches us. But I’m not choosing the military. The military government has three problems ngo jon jep!” [so stupid it hurts!].

Jon, 44, limousine driver in Khon Kaen City

Reporting and photos by Mike Eckel