Boonyeun Siritham from Samut Songkhram is among a handful of 77 senators-elect who are accepted by local people as a representative who won a seat in the Upper House based on dedication to their province.
Having senators free from political affiliation or influence is the intention of the Constitution of 2007. The charter’s drafters wanted to cast off the image of the Senate as “The House of Spouses”, which was the case during years when Thaksin was premier.
The charter now prohibits spouses, parents and children of MPs from running for the Senate.
Besides her commitment to protect her province from environmental destruction, Boonyeun said one of the major reasons for her victory was the fact that political parties had no roles or influence in the province. This had been seen in the past election of senators like children’s rights activist like Montri Sinthavicha and environmentalists like Surajit Cheerawet and herself, rather than veteran politicians.
Samut Songkhram is a small coastal province southwest of Bangkok where fishing is not just a livelihood but a way of life for local people.
With little education, Boonyeun spent most of her early life earning a living from fishing. That created bonds with nature and the environment. “I grew up in the belief that I must help protect the environment,’’ she said.
The turning point in her life came when she decided to further her education till she earned a master’s degree.
She campaigned against environmental destruction with a group called “Community of people who love Mae Khlong River”. She fought against allowing oil ships on the Mae Khlong, the building of a coal power plant and abattoirs, and the digging of a floodway through the province.
“Though critics said I spent only 22 days on my election campaign, the fact is I have worked for the province for 30 years.”
Having won the seat, Boonyeun knows her battles now take on a new meaning.
“The public must know that the Upper House has the significant role of checks and balances. It is a pity that politicians themselves do not have the awareness that they must balance and check the Lower House. How can they check MPs when they are closely related?’’ she said.
Boonyeun also believes her election campaign slogan of “The country is in crisis, vote in people with bravery’’ helped her win the hearts of voters.
“Being decent is not enough. A senator must have the courage to appoint honest people and remove corrupt people,’’ she said.
The Election Commission limits Senate campaign spending to Bt1 million. Boonyeun said she used up Bt500,000. And she has decided to donate Bt3,000 from her salary every month to help fund election campaigns by environmentalists like her. Over the six years of her term, the fund will grow to Bt200,000.
“If we do not have this fund for the next generation, they may not be able to win a senate seat against professional politicians.’’
Boonyeun wants to focus her checks-and-balances role on energy and environmental issues. Samut Songkhram people possess high environmental awareness. They have protested against moves to establish industrial estates in the province. “The environment is like the pillars of a house. If we do not have good pillars, our house collapses. I want to help ensure justice or fairness in any environmental issue,’’ she said.
Although her job will cover issues at the national level, Boonyeun said she was ready to accept complaints from locals whenever they are in trouble and to continue to help protect her province’s environment.