CHATURON Chaisaeng, former education minister and senior Pheu Thai Party executive, was back in the news when his passports were recently revoked for criticising the government, particularly Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, head of the National C
He talks to The Nation’s Wiraj Sripong about the current situation and his political career.
Q: DID YOU EXPECT THAT YOUR PASSPORTS WOULD BE REVOKED? HAS IT PREVENTED YOU FROM EXPRESSING YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THAI POLITICS?
A: I was first informed by a journalist. Later, the information was confirmed by many sources. I decided to go to see the director-general of the Consular Department to seek an explanation. They informed me that the Royal Thai Police had requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revoke the three passports, including my diplomatic passport.
I urged the ministry to review its decision and provide a formal explanation within 15 days. This measure limits my right to travel, even though I’m under temporary release conditions [by the Military Court].
So far, I’ve learned from the news that it was my political opinions that put me in this situation. These measures have been adopted because I “over-criticised” the NCPO.
I see this passport revocation as illegitimate and illegal. This goes against international law, which guarantees the right of individuals to travel out of the country. Moreover, the NCPO prohibits people from presenting opposing ideas – while the law does not forbid political viewpoints that differ from those of the government and the NCPO.
This is a matter of rights, [especially] when you are a politician and a citizen. I will always exercise my right to criticise. Letting it go would be negative for everyone in society.
Q: YOU ARE THE ONLY POLITICIAN WHO STOOD AGAINST THE COUP FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. HOW DOES THIS REFLECT YOUR FEELINGS AS A POLITICIAN, ESPECIALLY AMONGST PHEU THAI PARTY MEMBERS?
A: It might be a coincidence that I was the only one who stood against the coup and did not report to the NCPO. Back then, I [had no] chance to consult with other members of the Cabinet. I lost contact with others.
I’ve been through the same sort of situation many times [in the past], but this was the first time I had to report to the authorities.
It has always been my habit to oppose a coup d’etat. That is why I continue to do it.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS YOUR ROLE WITHIN THE PARTY AND AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL – FROM THE DAY YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER AS A POLITICIAN TO THE PRESENT?
A: Over time, my role and duties have evolved, starting from the day I became an MP to the day I assumed higher positions in the Cabinet.
“What I’ve always tried to preserve is freedom of political expression. I will talk [only] about truth and what is deemed beneficial for the country. I always say to myself that I should continue to develop my capacity [and broaden my intellectual horizon]. That is what all politicians should do.
Over the past 29 years of my career as a politician, I’ve always felt the need to help the country lay ground rules for democracy.
The exception was only when the country underwent a reform period between 1992 and 1997 that I felt the country was seeing a real moment of democracy.
However, I started to recognise the importance of re-engaging myself [in the fight for democracy once again] in 2006 and over the past years. [All the situations] can lead to the conclusion that the lack of democracy still remains among the important problems to be solved.
Twenty-nine years have passed and the country is less and less democratic. I’m not even certain whether in the next 10 or 20 years our society is going to be democratic.
Q: MANY PEOPLE PERCEIVE YOU AS A SKILFUL POLITICIAN AND PERHAPS A POTENTIAL CANDIDATE FOR PREMIERSHIP. HOWEVER, SOME MAY PERCEIVE THAT IT’S DIFFICULT TO BE OUTSTANDING WHEN WORKING UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE OUSTED AND FUGITIVE FORMER PRIME MINISTER THAKSIN SHINAWATRA.
A: Thai political parties are evolving and I’ve always preserved my identity by giving importance to what the majority says. Given my position as a politician, it is my duty to express my points of view and to share them with society.
From the time I was part of the Thai Rak Thai Party to the Pheu Thai Party, party policies have always been in harmony with the party ideology. There may be times that I view things differently. Sometimes, I was wrong. Sometimes I was right. Sometimes, the political context did not even allow members of the party to meet. So I tried to do what I could.
The expectations that others have for me [and my future in politics] may not coincide with the reality of Thai politics. Nevertheless, I will never stop to fight for democracy, whether my role in politics changes or not.
Q: THE CONTROVERSIAL CHARTER HAS JUST BEEN VOTED DOWN BY THE NATIONAL REFORM COUNCIL (NRC). WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FOR THE NEXT DRAFTING PROCESS?
A: Voting it down was better than approving it since it contained a lot of elements that made it extreme.
“We’ve wasted a year trying to draft a charter and not achieving anything in the end.
Once the draft charter was rejected, Thai society came to a point where the option is between bad and very bad. Another damaging [time] for the country is when the road map is extended.
Even now, there is no guarantee that we will have a better constitution. There is no guarantee that opposing ideas can be expressed.
The next draft charter should be more democratic, accessible to the people so that they can decide through a free and fair referendum.
In case it fails, there should be an election and a constitution based on what people in society really want.”