After years of military rule Thailand will go to the polls on March 24th 2019. Whilst many observers believe even after the election the military will retain substantial power, that hasn’t stopped a plethora of parties from registering. One of the most interesting of all the parties to register is the newly formed The Commoners Party which came officially a political party in 2018.
Although tiny in comparison to other parties with just over 1000 members, The Commoners Party is many years in the making growing from a grassroots movement, offering an alternative to the typical money driven populist hierarchical politics common in Thailand.
Formed by a group of activists, NGO workers and members of community environmental groups largely from rural Thailand, The Commoners Party sets out to be governed by the working poor with its members from communities across the country largely deciding the policies it will align itself with. Decentralization of power, the supporting of human rights and equality, and social and ecological justice features highly on the party’s policy list. Even its elected chief, a man called Lertsak Kamkongsak, has spent the last 20 years supporting communities around the country who fight against issues related to mining operations and the negative impacts they cause.
But the party is realistic and doesn’t expect to win that many seats in this years election, but they see it as the beginning of a new chapter in the movement and a starting point to possibly instigate social change. Some experts say it came together due to very little other options available for those fighting inequality and equal rights, and so it will be seen over time whether the Commoners Party can become a serious instigator of change for the better.
The Commoners Party chief and anti-mining activist Lertsak Kamkongsak talks with and inspires members of an anti-potash mining group on the morning of the first day of their 6 day protest walk to the Provincial capital. Approximately 200 locals gathered at a local temple in Wamon Niwat district ready to begin in December 2018.
The Commoners Party chief Lertsak Kamkongsak and other leaders take questions from the press during its official policy announcement at the symbolic October 14th memorial in Bangkok on January 28th 2019. The location is symbolic and a memorial to the student uprising and violent military crackdown at that time.
The Commoners Party chief and anti-mining activist Lertsak Kamkongsak talks with members of a anti-potash mining group that has been trying to stop the renewal of a Chinese Potash Mining Company license which they say will lead to huge environmental impact on their community and land. In December 2018 the community walked 85km over 6 days to the provincial capital to protest the company, something that was organised by Lertsak.
The Commoners Party chief Lertsak Kamkongsak announces its official policies at the symbolic October 14th memorial in Bangkok. The location is symbolic and a memorial to the student uprising and violent military crackdown at that time.
Several days before the start of the Wamon Walk in December 2018 the organisers, including The Commoner Party chief and anti-mining activist Lertsak Kamkongsak visited different communities to talk to villagers in an attempt to encourage them to join the walk. Whilst many are defiant to join others are nervous of the reaction by authorities.
In late January The Commoners Party announced its official policies at the symbolic October 14th memorial in Bangkok. The location is symbolic and a memorial to the student uprising and violent military crackdown at that time. To open the event a modern dance group performed. Their performance represented the stifling of rights by the oppressors and the resilience of those determined to protect their own rights. It ended with an actor doing the three-finger salute, a symbol from the film The Hunger Games, which has been used by Thai political activists opposing the junta and was subsequently banned.
At the Commoners Party Headquarters in Northern Bangkok, volunteers make party banners using material and the screen printing process. Severe budget restrictions have meant that the party hasn't been able to pay for professional printing like other wealthy parties.
At The Commoners Party Headquarters in Northern Bangkok, volunteers make party banners using material and the screen printing process. Once the paint is applied the banners must be hung to dry. Once finished they will be hung on lampposts and trees in the districts where they have candidates which for Bangkok is three.
In a remote district Sakhon Nakhon Province in Northeast Thailand, Commoners Party members nail the party's handmade banners to trees. Number 29 is the number of that areas candidate for the party, a man called Sanjiam Sutsaiya.
During election time every available tree and sign-post is taken up by political party banners. Here, a handmade Commoners Party banner hangs amongst the professionally designed and printed banners of other wealthy parties.
One of The Commoners Party leaders, Nimit Tienudom talks with locals at a slum community on the outskirts of Bangkok. He was invited to come and put their policies forward to the local people. This community is typical of The Commoner Party members being from the working class and who for 40 years have fought to stay on this piece on land. Mr Tienudom is a leading health care activist in Thailand who has fought for the Thai health system to provide affordable treatment for chronic disease patients, by lowering the cost of essential drugs and expanding the role of patients in managing their long-term treatment.
At a slum community on the outskirts of Bangkok locals gather to listen to two members of The Commoners Party who were invited invited to come and put their policies forward to the local people. This community is typical of The Commoner Party members being from the working class and who for 40 years have fought to stay on this piece on land.
Supporters and members of the Commoners Party are mostly those who have been repressed or suffered from social ills such as slum communities like this one or rural communities fighting against development projects that are often built with little consideration for the local people.
Commoners Party member Nitirat Sapsomboon (right) takes the member registration of a local lady a slum community on the outskirts of Bangkok.
In a remote district Sakhon Nakhon Province in Northeast Thailand, Commoners Party members nail the party's handmade banners to trees. 29 is the number of this areas party candidate and the message offers free health care for everyone.
Members of the Commoners Party walk around a remote village in Sakhon Nakhon Province in Northeast Thailand, handing out flyers. Because of the policies they represent and the inequality gap that still plagues rural Thailand they have more candidates in the remote provinces than they do in central Thailand.
Commoners Party Candidate for Sakhon Nakhon District 2 is a man called Sanjiam Sutsaiya, 71, seen in the poster on the pickup car. He is a member of a small community group that has been opposing the construction of a sugar refinery and biogas plant close to their community which they say will affects the surrounding environment.
Market vendors in the remote district of Kusuman in Sakhon Nakhon Province read a Commoners Party flyer they have just been given.
Sanjiam Sutsaiya, the Commoners Party Candidate for Sakhon Nakhon District 2, drives around a village in Kusuman District to hand out flyers and propose his policies to the local villagers.
During a day of canvassing, members of The Commoners Party park next to a market in Kusuman District and announce their policies over a loud speaker to promote the the candidate Sanjiam Sutsaiya, 71, (second left). They finish the announcements by performing the party symbol with their arms which represents equality.