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Surapong Suebwonglee: The Young and “New” Political Parties

When “people who want elections” come out and call for them as scheduled, some voices say: “even if we have elections, the same faces and the same political parties will bring back the same old problems.”
 
With this discourse, I think from some angles, the people who say this want to lessen the credibility of elections and say they are not a solution to the problems we complain about. But from other angles, I understand the issues that make them think in such a way. If political parties or options have not evolved to make people want to vote for them, then it’s still hard to see dimly the solutions to the problems that we face. 
 
Imagine this: suppose that the 6 January 2001 election had no Thai Rak Thai Party as an option, even with the 1997 Constitution already promulgated; Thai politics and society would certainly not be like what we see today.
 
 
Without the Thai Rak Thai Party, Thai politics would return to the late 80s, where a number of parties came and went as the core of coalition governments. There would be no serious call for a policy on elections. Universal healthcare and the 30 baht health care programme, would just be Dr. Sanguan’s pipe dream. The Village Funds would never have happened. OTOP and SME would be acronyms without meaning. And we might still be paying our debts to the IMF.
 
Thai politics without Thai Rak Thai would not have the colour-coded Red-Yellow conflict, because power would change hands. No political party would win every election. There would be no need to rely on “street politics” to kick out governments since each government would last only a year or two.
 
So the birth of Thai Rak Thai completely changed Thai politics and society around the turn of the century. 
 
I like to have fun with this thought: if Thai Rak Thai of 2001 travelled through time to stand for the elections in 2018 to 2019, could they still be an option to change Thai politics and Thai society? 
 
Absolutely not, because the social ecology of 20 years ago and that of today are completely different. The youth of today are constrained by problems of inequality of access to opportunity, the pressure of competition, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence, Blockchain, the Internet of Things, electronic vehicles, and so on, which are violently disrupting what they are used to at an exponential speed. As a result, the young are calling for political parties that are ready to handle these great changes. Of course, the Thai Rak Thai of 2001 could not do this.
 
Pheu Thai, the Democrats, and other political parties who volunteer to serve the country in the next election must therefore change to meet the hopes of the young, whether it’s fixing, renovating, or completely disrupting their party. 
 
At the same time, this is a chance for “new” political parties run by the young to present themselves as an option, if the old parties are too unwieldy to move in time with the changes.
 
I can relate to the winds of new parties of the young that are blowing stronger and stronger, among the waves of democracy of “people who want elections” which are getting larger and larger.
 
When you look back at Thai political history, “new” parties have never been missing from Thai politics, and sometimes they have even thoroughly “shaken up” politics.
 
In modern Thai politics since 14 Oct. 1973, there have been three major elections where political parties that had just appeared won significant seats and affected the political situation at the time.
 
In the 22 April 1979 election, the “new” 45-day-old Thai Citizens’ Party, led by Samak Sundaravej swept 29 Bangkok constituencies out of 32. The three seats were left to MR Kukrit Pramoj and Kasem Sirisamphan from the Social Action Party and Dr Thanat Khoman from the Democrat Party.
 
In the 22 March 1992 election, the Palang Dharma Party led by Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang swept 32 out of 35 Bangkok seats. The other three went to Samak Sundaravej and Dr Lalita Lerksamran from the Thai Citizens’ Party and Abhisit Vejjajiva from the Democrat Party.
 
In the 6 January 2001 election the Thai Rak Thai Party, led by Dr Thaksin Shinawatra swept 29 out of 37 Bangkok constituencies, leaving eight seats for the Democrat Party.
 
Reconsider these three familiar cases where the phrase is “swept Bangkok constituencies” – where it is believed that there is no vote-buying and voters can always change their minds if someone they elected did not do as they wanted and, voters are always ready to turn to new candidates.
 
Therefore, in the next elections not only do I want to see them happening soon, but I also want to see “new” parties run by the young, who will push Thai society towards the future they dream of. And if they do their homework properly, they will “sweep Bangkok constituencies” again.
 
In fact, “new” political parties and “new-style” politicians are in vogue worldwide, since the young of the world today are facing the strong pressures mentioned above. 
 
The young are being pushed away into being “outsiders”, thrown far from the political circles that affect their lives and futures. So this creates calls for new representatives for their group free from the “big shots” in old-style politics. 
 
It’s not surprising that representatives that have the feeling of being “outsiders” are accepted by groups of young people. The coming into prominence of people like Bernie Sanders in the United States, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Justin Trudeau in Canada, Emmanuel Macron in France, and Pablo Iglesias in Spain is a sufficient explanation of the frustrations of the young.
 
Today, I see the Thai youth rising up and actively expressing their feelings that they “want elections”, unafraid of the dangers.
 
At the same time, there are some young people who are beginning to think aloud, placing their hopes in their representatives in the coming election, such as:
 
“Changing the country for the better cannot be done overnight. It needs time, perseverance, and determination. But time does not mean just waiting, not doing anything. I believe that there are young people with great ideas who are determined in their desire to change this country and make a new kind of politics for the country.
 
‘Politics’ is our business. If we don’t do it ourselves someone else will come in and do it. If we want a certain kind of politics, we have to do it ourselves. We need to create a ‘new alternative’ to ensure its success.  The ‘new alternative’ may not win today but at least we have to give people ‘hope’ for politics...a new kind of politics that is created by the people.”  —Piyabutr Saengkanokkul
 
I predict that after 1 March, we will see the young rise up to create new political parties of their own, driven by the ideas of the young for the future of Thai society that they will live in for the next 50 to 60 years. 
 
A new generation, a new future.