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Liberal Commoner Party born out of 'disillusionment'

THE LEADER of the newly formed Commoner Party of Thailand 's (CPT) says the party's policy to amend the lese majeste law is not its most controversial.

Thanaporn Sriyakul, who appears to be both realistic and optimistic about Thai politics, said there were two other proposals that had attracted more controversy, namely the move to no longer segregate public toilets according to sex and end the use of prefixes indicating gender in the Thai language.

The 44-year-old said these proposals were meant to foster gender equality.

The party attracted a lot of media attention at its launch last month, when noted historian Nidhi Eoseewong agreed to give a keynote speech. Though many of the party's policies sound progressive, radical even, Thanaporn is not exactly a fresh face in the field of politics.

Thanaporn, who teaches at Mahanakorn University of Technology's Faculty of Business Administration and is about to complete his doctorate in political science at Kasetsart University, has for years been a close aide of veteran politician Somsak Thepsuthin, the leader of Pheu Thai Party's Matchima faction, which returned after defecting to Bhum Jai Thai Party.

Thanaporn has over the last decade served as an adviser to a few ministers, but his decision to form a new party with little financial backing resulted from his gradual disillusionment with big political parties, including Pheu Thai.

There were two crucial turning points for him. The first was when Parliament president Somsak Kiatsuranont last year refused to allow a debate on a proposed bill to amend the lese majeste law that was drafted by the Nitirat group of Thammasat University law lecturers and signed by more than 30,000 people.

The last straw for the Nakhon Ratchasima native was the Pheu Thai Party's move to pass a blanket amnesty bill late last year that would have "whitewashed" scores of people connected to political violence in recent years, including ousted fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

"It was like holding little people hostage and forgetting them, or having those who were shot [during the protests] get shot for a second time," Thanaporn said.

Though he initially thought the ruling Pheu Thai Party could deliver what he expected, he eventually realised that this was not the case. He then asked his friends if they would continue placing their hopes on Pheu Thai.

"This came at a time when the legitimacy of the Pheu Thai Party to talk about these issues had evaporated," Thanaporn, whose father is a retired army general, said.

He said that after discussing the issue, he and his friends realised that whatever the ruling Pheu Thai Party may still claim to represent, Thailand still needed a political party that truly represented the voice of the voiceless. That's when they decided to create CPT, have it registered and get ready to run in the next election.

The party's other policy platforms include abolishing compulsory military conscription and replacing it with a reservist force, creating a special administrative zone in the restive South and returning the Phya Pattani canon located in front of the Defence Ministry to Pattani.

It is also pushing for there to be no distinction between same-sex and inter-sex marriages, it wants to end "discriminatory" identification of HIV/Aids patients on public hospital cards, allow Thais in border areas to become citizens and provide financial incentives for the employment of physically challenged people.

Another policy is to ensure a more thorough Environmental Impact Assessment scheme.

Thanaporn pointed out that the party was also seeking to abolish the appointed provincial governor system and replace it with the existing elected local administration bodies.

He said that while he was certain a general election would be held, his expectation for the party was very modest and he planned to have 50 candidates in both the constituency and party-list systems.

"Given our policies it would be a miracle if we win one [party-list] seat," he said, adding that he believed about 120,000 party-list votes were needed for one MP to be elected to the House. "If we don't get it, we won't consider it a loss, but only a gain."

Thanaporn believes a small liberal party with progressive policies can play a crucial role in Thai politics.

At a time when many Thais, particularly supporters of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), have become disillusioned with electoral politics and are pushing for national reform before the election, Thanaporn is quite optimistic about electoral democracy.

"The phenomena of people being fed up with politicians is nothing strange. It's not that Americans, British or the French are not fed up. But the institution of politics is ever evolving. We created our party to open up debate," he said.

"Our policies are more progressive than those [of the PDRC] at Lumpini Park. If you are dispirited, why don't you come exchange views with us?" he said, adding that anybody with liberal views is welcome.


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