Guest contribution by Visarut Sankham
Election campaign posters have mushroomed on rural roads and street corners. Sporting party uniforms, local candidates roam the markets waving signs showing their ballot numbers. Small groups of villagers on plastic chairs listen to speeches and promises through crackling loudspeakers.
After almost five years under military rule, campaign season is in full swing in the Northeast. But among many rural voters, there seem to be only muted excitement and little hope that the election will bring about change.
In this photo essay, Visarut Sankham captures the mood ahead of the polls on March 24 in Khon Kaen’s Constituencies 3 and 4, two of the largest electoral districts in the province where candidates of 42 parties contest in the race.
The village of Ban Nonghanjang is part of Constituency 3.
The Pa Wai intersection in Constituency 4 (left) and Hin Keng Namphong market area in Constituency 3 (right).
The Pa Wai intersection (left) and the entrance to Nong Songhong Village in Constituency 4 (right).
“They’re no different from the fish sauce-selling truck that drives past our homes.”
A villager from Ban Khamnapoom on party campaigning in Constituency 4, comparing the canvassing vehicles to the fish sauce sellers who just drive up and down village streets hawking their wares without really caring to stop and talk to anyone.
Above: A local candidate has modified his personal car for canvassing in Constituency 4.
“If they come wearing red, then that’s them alright.”
Duangjit Khotna, a villager from Ban Nakhoh in Khao Suan Kwang District of Khon Kaen says it’s easy to tell which parties are aligned with Thaksin Shinawatra from the shirts that they wear.
Chainiwat Chaiyasa (right), candidate for the Prachachat Party in Constituency 4, canvasses for votes at the Hin Kong market in Namphong District, Khon Kaen. Local markets are popular targets for election campaigns.
“This year I’ll choose that Tanakorn boy”
Ban Nakhoh villager Khamphaeng Butdaphum speaks of her decision to vote for the Future Forward Party, arguing that the same old politics haven’t ever changed a thing. The party’s prime ministerial candidate is named Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
Some other people in the area say that they will vote for the military-leaning Palang Pracharat Party, saying that the government of Prayuth was able to bring peace and order to the country.
Above: A Buddhist Bun Pha Wet procession passing by campaign posters in Ban Khamnangpoom Village, Constituency 4.
Election campaigning in Ban Nonghanjang Village in Constituency 3
“I’m back, brothers and sisters!”
Pheu Thai Party candidate Jatuporn Charoenchua addresses villagers in Ban Hua Suea Ten, Namphong District, Constituency 3. He explains that he hasn’t visited any of the people in the past five years because the military junta banned him from engaging in political activities. He promises the small group of villagers to prioritize economic development if they vote for him.
“I’ll fix that dog policy!”
Samniang Luejiangkham, also known as “Lil’ Ah-Tee Thammarong”, is a former policeman and community radio show host. Running on a ticket from the Polamuang Thai Party, he is one of the 42 candidates in Constituency 4. He wants to amend the Prevention of Cruelty and Animal Welfare Provision Act 2014.
In his view, this law was written for the luxury condo-dwellers of Bangkok who keep their dogs inside, without any understanding of the way dogs roam freely and sometimes harm people in rural villages. Samniang maintains that this law contributes to the hardship of people in rural areas, and proposes to abolish it in favour of punishments for the owners of errant dogs. He also intends to address the stray dog problem by creating a dogmeat industry for export to Vietnam, which would also create additional income for Thailand.
The villagers of Constituencies 3 and 4 tend to agree that they don’t expect an awful lot of change to come from this election, but they still have hope that the economic situation might improve as a result, particularly through higher sugarcane and tapioca prices.
When asked about their voting choices, many villagers voiced a similar line of reasoning. Amnuay Nabong, a Ban Nakhoh villager put it like this: “even though I don’t particularly like the candidate in this constituency, I’m still going to vote for the same old party because the 30-baht [healthcare] policy is what keeps us poor people alive”.
Visarut Sankham is a son of the rice fields who went to study in the city. Through his photojournalism, he tells the stories of northeastern Thailand. https://www.sankhamphotography.com/