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Thai Protesters Galvanized by Ousted Elected Representatives


Many of the protesters who occupied parts of Bangkok for two months came from Thailand's rural northeast. They want new elections because their benefactor, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawtra, and politicians loyal to him, were removed by the military and court rulings. Despite charges of corruption and abuse of power, Mr. Thaksin won the hearts of farmers and laborers, something the current government struggles to achieve.



Hun Katiphatee fries rice in his small Udon Thani restaurant.

On the counter and walls there are pictures and posters supporting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his outlawed political party.

Hun credits Mr. Thaksin with being the first leader to deliver on a promise to build drainage canals, stopping severe flooding that for years threatened his restaurant.

He was one of thousands of mainly rural anti-government protesters who occupied Bangkok for two months earlier this year, demanding new elections.

No respect

Hun says he joined the red-shirt movement because Mr. Thaksin and his party represented them. And then they were toppled from power in a 2006 military coup. He says those who brought Mr. Thaksin down did not respect the voice of the people and therefore do not respect the people.

Before Mr. Thaksin and politicians loyal to him were banned from politics they created village loan programs that helped farmers and laborers start plantations and invest in livestock.

They subsidized housing and health care for the poor, helping them get access to costly procedures such as brain and heart surgery, literally winning their hearts and minds.

Crediting Thaksin

Lumporn Wuttisarn is building a garden in the government subsidized house she bought last year.

She bought the small house under the current government, but all her thanks go to Mr. Thaksin for starting the program.

She says compared with Mr. Thaksin the government now does not really take care of people in the northeast. She says Mr. Thaksin really came out to help people improve their lives and the current government should come out more to support and help them.

Better times

Theera Tanglucmunkong, chairman of the Udon Thani Chamber of Commerce says the economy was indeed better during Mr. Thaksin's time but partly because there was no global economic crisis and fewer political disruptions than today.

He says the government under the circumstances is doing its best. Funding is short and there is a lot of need so there is not as much financial support for Udon Thani as before. However, he understands the government is not to blame.

Danuch Tanterdtid runs several schools in Udon Thani.

He originally supported Mr. Thaksin but became disillusioned with his authoritarian tendencies and allegations of corruption.

Another point of view

Danuch joined the yellow shirts who protested to bring down Mr. Thaksin's political machine in 2006, and now heads their New Politics party in Udon Thani.

"Mr. Thaksin, he used to say that people who vote for him, who vote for his party, they will take care of them first," Danuch said. "People who vote for other parties, he and his people will take care of them later. That is completely wrong."

But, Danuch agrees that the current government is not giving enough support to the countryside.

What changed?

Spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn says the government has made improvements to housing, health care, and support for the elderly and farmers.

"They are being heard already. If you look at the governmental programs to improve the lives of the people on the ground," Panitan said. "Already this government is the first government in the history of Thailand to make a free education for all, mandated by the constitution of 1997. But, never before any government in the past never be able to do it."

Panitan says it will take time for people to realize the changes. He says officials need to do a better job of letting people in the countryside know that they are listening and taking action.

But they will have to convince skeptics in rural Thailand, who say electing a new government is the only way for their voices to be heard.

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