BANGKOK — Seeking an interview with Kittichai Ngamchaipisit, electrician, university dropout and co-founder of the Commoner Party, was a very low-profile affair.
Unlike so-called high-profile progressive political movements, his has held no press conferences, the mass media has overlooked it and it doesn’t even have headquarters yet. But Kittichai’s party – which seeks to put the poor in parliament – is arguably one of the most serious and ambitious in term of ideology.
“Every party says they will represent the poor. The Commoner Party says the poor will speak for themselves [in parliament]. How about that?” 47-year-old Kittichai, a veteran NGO worker and rights trainer, said Monday.
Known in Thai as Pak Samanchon, the movement – whose ideology roughly coincides with that of the social democrats and the greens – talks not just about representing the voices of the grassroots, but about attempting to get them in power via the party so that they may speak for themselves alongside committed NGO workers.
That means the annual 100 baht membership fee will be a sacrifice for poor people wanting to become members, but the groundwork has been laid, as key founders – himself included – have worked to improve the poor’s rights and welfare for decades.
The party’s founders share a lot in common with the much more media-savvy Future Forward Party led by multi-billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and the two parties previously discussed the possibility of merging.
Thanathorn sat on the executive board of Matichon Group, which owns Khaosod and Khaosod English, until he resigned from the board on Wednesday.
In the end, Kittichai said his party wants to secure an exclusive space for the poor, making the merger a no deal.
“Our stress is in getting the voices of the commoners into parliament,” Kittichai said, adding that the meeting ended amicably.
He added that besides the goal of pushing to see the underprivileged in the National Assembly, issues close to the party’s heart include LGBT rights, women’s rights, educational reform in the deep south, rights to local natural resources, better universal healthcare, labor rights for both Thai and migrant workers, decentralization and local self-determination.
Other names revealed among the dozen-plus co-founders include environmentalist Pathanin Klom-iang, veteran LGBT rights activist Chumaporn Taengkiang, human rights activist and Dao Din group founder Kornchanok Saenprasert and youth activist Panida Boonthep.
True to its name, the party symbol is an equal sign.
Kittichai said the movement is committed to at least stay in the fray – regardless of the electoral result of elections slated for next year – for at least a decade and hopes to eventually have five party MPs and a minister.
Those who know about the party cautioned any such optimism, saying that as an alternative, they will have to face-off with not just political juggernauts such as the Pheu Thai Party but much more endowed parties such as the Future Forward Party.
While the Future Forward Party co-founder is a multi-billionaire and a subject of widespread media attention, Kittichai said thinking about his own network “depresses” him, as most media simply ignored his movement when it registered its name at the Election Commission on March 2.
Marxist political activist Chotisak Onsoong said the Kittichai’s movement is more linked to the grassroots than the Future Forward Party – which he said has the image of being a middle-class hipster party for the new generation. Nevertheless, Chotisak said it’s yet to be seen how villagers and the urban poor will truly play a meaningful role in Commoner Party.
Asked whether they could compete for the vote of the poor, Chotisak said it depends on their policy.
“Although they have worked with local people for a long period, it’s no guarantee that those they worked with will definitely vote for them,” said Chotisak, member of left-wing political activist movement Group of Comrades.
Sweden-based former union leader Jittra Cotchadet said both the Commoner Party and the Future Forward Party stand a good chance of being the voice of the poor, adding it would require both parties to work closely with local people.
Kittichai said this reflected the Commoner Party’s values, adding that it wanted the poor to play a prominent role in determining its policies. He added that he hopes the party’s four regional branches will be strong – and not dominated by its future Bangkok headquarters.
“Stupidity is relative and not absolute. Our target [voters] are not based on any particular generation. Do ask yourself whether you want to see justice in society or not,” Kittichai said when asked why the more privileged and well-educated should vote for the poor and less-formally educated.