Voices from Isaan: First-time voters want to make a difference


In early March, The Isaan Record interviewed a range of people in Khon Kaen and Chaiyaphum about policies that matter most to their lives and the party they’ll choose in this upcoming election.

This week, we turn our questions to first-time voters from three major universities in Khon Kaen City. We asked them about domestic issues closest to their hearts, policies they want to see and the parties they want to vote for.

First-time voters, aged 18 – 25, make up around 7 million or about 14 percent of the electorate. In the election this Sunday, about 45 million voters — 90 percent of the 50 million total eligible voters — are expected to turnout, according to a recent survey from the King Prajadhipok’s Institute.

Khon Kaen students voiced a range of concerns from economics, human and political rights to a broken education system. But almost all agreed they want to see something new in Thai politics.

The sluggish economy worried each of them, whether it affects them personally or their families, or dims their hopes for employment after graduation. A majority complained about an education system that reinforces social inequalities and fails to effectively teach skills beyond rote memorization.

There were also a brave few who admitted their frustration with Thailand’s betrayal of human and political rights criticizing restrictions on freedom of speech under military rule.

As to the question of who they’ll vote for, most sided with pro-democracy parties.

Reporting and photos by Mike Eckel

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Nattapat Udomsin, 19, Faculty of Technology student at Khon Kaen University

I think it’s a good thing that we will have the opportunity for an election because elections are a cornerstone of democracy.

The biggest issue of past five years are the laws, and how much of the national budget was spent on the military instead on economic issues. Money should be better distributed and managed.

The worst of it is that whatever the government does, there is no way to hold them accountable. For example, the watch scandal [of Prawit Wongsuwan], corruption and several laws that unfairly target specific groups.

I think, I will vote for Future Forward Party because if I choose any of the big established parties, it might just be more of the same. I want to shoot for change [with my vote]. I’ve never been able to vote before. I’m 19, so I’ve lived under dictatorship and now want to vote for a new government; one that will really be able to change things and give us a new future.

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Sakarin Batya, 22, is a technician at the Faculty of Technology, Khon Kaen University

I think this election will be a watershed event. This could be a return to democracy in Thailand. We might see both positive and negative consequences of this. In a democratic system people will have more rights to express themselves, however, at the same time I worry there might be violent protests. Under the dictatorship things have been more or less peaceful, but development has also been at a standstill.

I think the Democrat Party with former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will do well. There’s a lot that interests me about them. Abhisit has been a prime minister before, and he’s been involved in politics for 27 years now, so he has a lot of experience. I think he is sincere about helping to develop this country, as far as I can see. I think they’ll bring us democracy.  

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Khodnow Buaphon, 21, studies Physical Therapy at Khon Kaen University

What affects me and my family most is the state of the economy. At this time the economy is in a poor state, prices have dropped and so have incomes. I’d like to see a return to prosperity.

We need better economics in order to have better access to quality education, because higher quality education will result in higher quality development for this country, so education should be better funded.

There is definitely inequality in terms of opportunities for education. For example, wealthy families can send their kids to prestigious schools in Bangkok. These kids will be able to study at prestigious universities, and then go on to study at universities abroad.

Right now I’m interested in two or three parties. I like Future Forward, and maybe Pheu Thai because they’re good with the economy, and maybe also a third but I’m not really sure yet. They’ll definitely be one of the democratic parties though.

The Future Forward Party seems to understand this generation, they’re not obsessed with power like the older generations. The younger generations are more focused on moving things forward. I think Pheu Thai will be able to successfully boost economy, I’ve heard that they have a proven track record in that way.

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Teerapon Phanomkun, 18, Auto Mechanic student at Khon Kaen Technical College

I’m worried about the state of the economy at the moment. My family aren’t well off. My parents are rice farmers, and the price of rice has fallen a lot. Policies that are most important for my life and my family are those that will increase the minimum wage and improve the agricultural economy.

I’m currently looking at two parties, Pheu Thai and Future Forward. Pheu Thai have a proven track record, they’ve shown that they can successfully implement beneficial policies. As for Future Forward, they’re mostly from the newer generations and they can bring some new ideas to the table. When I watch them on YouTube, I feel they have very good idea about how to move Thailand forward.

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Sujintra Phangkhoksung, 22, studies Marketing at Rajamangala University of Technology Isan

In Thailand, we have a lot of inequality. You can see clearly that people who have social status and money will have more rights than regular people. For example, in rape-murder cases, if the perpetrator comes from a wealthy and high status family they won’t get in trouble.

The people who are in a position to do something about this don’t seem to care, or if they do, they seem to lack the will and determination to deal with corruption. They regard money and their position as more important than justice. If, for example, these people became concerned and wanted to push for justice, it could have bad consequences for their careers. So, instead they turn a blind eye.

I don’t think a new election will necessarily make many inroads into the issue of corruption entirely, but it could possibly improve.

For me, policies that fix the economy are what’s most important right now. The fact that Thailand has a military government is scaring away foreign investors, so I would really like to see this change in order to attract more foreign investment. I think that if we can vote in a new government in this election, the economy will be better. And that way people at every strata of society will have better incomes.

I think, I will choose the Future Forward Party. I may not have examined their policies very closely yet, but I like people who can answer questions clearly and well, it shows that they have knowledge and are honest. Still, to really know we have to wait, because we have yet to see how they will actually work.

What makes me not choose the party of the current prime minister, is that we’ve seen how it’s been in the past 4-5 years; Thailand has stood still, actually, it hasn’t just stood still, it’s been steadily going downhill. The military government says everything is okay, but I haven’t seen them deliver any beneficial results from their work so far, so we can’t really expect to see such results after the election either.

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Tinakon Maphong, 21, studies Civil Engineering at Rajamangala University of Technology Isan

For me the most important policies are about quality of life. I think that if we focus on developing our people they’ll create a good quality of life for themselves, and the country will progress as a result. Development needs to start from the people at the bottom.

Currently, the economy is bad for all households who rely on farming as crop prices continue to fall. Low crop prices mean that farmers struggle to make a good income, which affects me because my mom and dad are rice and sugar cane farmers. So I want a leader who will pay some attention to agricultural development.

I haven’t followed party policies yet but from what I’ve seen, I like the Pheu Thai Party. They focus on the people, and their policies emphasize development.

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Pecharat Pitak, 22, studies Marketing at Rajamangala University of Technology Isan

I want women’s rights to be strengthened with laws that are severe and strict. Because sometimes when offenders hurt women, they might get arrested and brought to the police station, but they will only get a little slap on the wrist. They’re released easily and afterwards they’ll only return to hurt women again.

But the most important policy should promote equality in society. We shouldn’t have to divide ourselves by who we are and our backgrounds. I think everyone should be free and equal. I also want for me and others to be able to openly express ourselves and our thoughts.

I want to have the freedom and capability to say whatever I want to say about any issue. Because, if we don’t have freedom of speech, there’s no way they [the government] can hear us. Right now, the government is self-righteous and only listens to itself, so they’re unaware of other people’s thoughts.

I think I will choose the Future Forward party, because I want to see Thailand have a future that is better than this. The Future Forward party has new kinds of policy and their leaders are also part of the younger generations. They’re probably up to date with the knowledge required to run this country successfully and are ready to hear the thoughts of the younger generation.

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Waraporn Panthet, 20, studies Management at Rajamangala University of Technology Isan

I think there should be more rights and freedom for women. These days it is dangerous for women. It’s difficult to go anywhere alone. In most cases, when someone commits an offense against a woman they end up getting away with it. The law seems to be quite soft on them. For murder, I want perpetrators to face capital punishment. Offenders can easily ask for forgiveness after admitting their guilt and they won’t receive a serious punishment. So offenders get away easily, and then they continue to abuse women, it’s a continuous cycle.

I still haven’t decided  on which party would be the best remedy for these issues. I need to continue watching the news to get more details on the parties’ policies. I just want the party that has the most interesting policies. The Future Forward Party has policies that interest many in my generation. But I still haven’t decided for myself who will be best.

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Netrasuriya Sonnam, 24, studies Marketing at Rajamangala University of Technology Isan

I think the most pressing issue for Isaan is the drug problem, there’s so much of it and the use of it is getting quite brazen.

They should be controlled rather than banned outright though, because they’re not all the same. If the economy was better and if people had more money they could sell things that are legal, which they have the skills to do already. But the economy is bad, so people do things that will make money quickly.

Right now, the economy is awful to the point that you can’t do anything. For all of us. Many people who are just starting out and are maybe thinking of starting a business shy away from making any investments.

For example, there are students who get inspired to start businesses through the course of their studies, but are discouraged from doing so by the economic situation. Even well established businesses are having a hard time of it, if they can’t adapt they will go bankrupt. And when they try to reestablish themselves, they’re most likely not able to.

I’m not quite sure what party I will choose, I’m more focused on the policies that speak to me. Specifically, policies that address the systemic corruption and patronage in Thailand, and economic policies that will allow Thailand to leap ahead.

Many parties are campaigning with these kinds of policies, but I’m still not confident they will be able to do what they say. But one thing’s for sure, I won’t be choosing the same government.

But when it comes down to it, I think I’ll choose Future Forward or maybe Pheu Thai. Future Forward are part of the new generation, so they understand us. As for Pheu Thai, they have experience and have been around for a while. They’ve been focusing on economic development for poor people so that there will be more equality in society. This will help poor people achieve a better quality of living, and have more food. But I still can’t decide which party I will choose. I want to wait and see what happens leading up to the election.

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Tirawat Ratanaliam, 23, studies Marketing at Rajamangala University of Technology Isan

I think the first and foremost issue with this country is income. At the moment, people aren’t making enough money. Many people have lost their jobs, only certain people get the best jobs, but those at the bottom don’t have work. Most poor people aren’t able to work today. It’s the most important, because if poor people have more purchasing power the country will be better, it will develop, and democracy will thrive.

The second biggest issue is that everyone can express themselves, and their thoughts freely. Right now, we can’t express our thoughts, because it’s against the law. Today, the only people who can express themselves are those who have power. But if we have an actual democracy, everyone can have a voice, no matter who you are.

I want to try something new and completely different. I want Thailand to move past the old way of politics where two factions fight each other. Right now politics is split between factions, the military and democracy. I think, I will choose Future Forward because they are the party that is positioned most neutrally. They know that identifying with either faction is not the way to move the country forward.

Also, the Future Forward Party leader has shown that he really cares, even though he comes from a privileged background he was there at the protests for community rights and democracy a long time before he got into politics. I think he is sincere about democracy, and even if he isn’t he’ll only have four years until we can choose again.

It won’t be like before where after two years the party will be removed [from government].

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Supawinee Polkhan, 20, studies Business Management at Khon Kaen University

I think the most important thing for the new government is to focus on reducing the inequality between people across the nation. This should happen first by giving equal access to quality education.

Thailand’s education system should be borrowing from the Finnish model. At the moment, Thailand’s method of instruction only emphasizes the learning of facts. But I really think students need to be taught skills that will apply directly to work.

Beyond education, the economy is not doing well, especially outside of the cities and in regard to people’s cost of living. Local economies are all structured differently and that impacts people’s livelihoods causing inequality. It’s actually a huge issue that is quite complex.

I’m interested in the Future Forward Party because there policies reflect the thoughts of this newer generation, I can feel that the leader of the party is part of the new generation that really wants to do things differently. The other older parties have only tried to progress the nation with the same old narrow vision, and we can see the results of that all around us today.

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Toemsak Pittarate, 22, Faculty of Medicine student at Khon Kaen University

Thailand is still quite a conservative society, I don’t think that suddenly abolishing certain systems or things that we’ve been doing for a long time, as some parties have proposed, is feasible. Like some party proposed to abolish religious ceremonies [in educational institutions], which is definitely not possible in this country. I tend to concur with the older generation. We should not rush to change our society because we might lose our distinct values, like our respect for elders and religion.

I haven’t followed the news yet so I am not sure yet [what party to choose]. My family are all farmers and they support Pheu Thai Party. I might vote for them too, or maybe try something new like Future Forward Party. I believe that my generation are very into individualism, and Thanathorn’s words and policies seem to really appeal to that.