15 July 2024

A little-known political party named Fair – or “Pen Tham” in Thai – has drawn the media spotlight after being included in the eight-party coalition formed by election winner Move Forward.

The Fair Party won only one party-list seat in the May 14 general election, with secretary-general Kannavee Suebsang becoming its sole MP. The party garnered 181,226 votes, just enough to warrant a seat in the party-list vote, which is still to be endorsed by the Election Commission.

Fair was set up in December 2018 with a manifesto as a “new party with new people for new politics”, while its motto promises “a democracy that is fair”.

Party leader Pitipong Temcharoen is a former spokesman of the Thai Liberal Party. He has previously been elected as an MP for the Prachakorn Thai, Thai Rak Thai, and People Power parties.

Pitipong quit the Thai Liberal Party after a conflict with its leader, Sereepisuth Temeeyaves. He then took over an inactive political party and renamed it “Fair”.

Despite being party leader, Pitipong did not contest in the general election. Instead, he backed his deputy, Kannavee, who is also Fair’s chief strategist.

Shared views on deep South

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, who is targeting the prime minister’s seat, said Fair Party was approached to join his coalition because of its “strong determination in working for peace” in the three southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat.

Pita exchanged views with Fair Party’s key figures and election candidates during his visit to the region in the run-up to the May 14 election.

“We share the same views about setting the future of residents in the southern border provinces. We also believe in the decentralization of power. For both of us, food security comes before military security. We believe civilian-led rather than military-led efforts are the answer,” Pita explained.

The Malay Muslim-majority deep South has been troubled by insurgency for almost two decades now. The conflict resurfaced on January 4, 2004, when armed insurgents raided a military camp in Narathiwat and seized 413 weapons.

Since that day, 10,376 security-related attacks in the region have left 4,160 people dead and 11,169 others injured. The Thai military has been given special powers in the region, which has been under martial law since 2004.

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‘Comprehensive approach’

Kannavee, 46, confirmed that Fair Party and Move Forward share the same goal of restoring peace in the deep South.

“What brings us together is our common objective. We all want to see peace in the South,” he said.

He said his party has proposed a “comprehensive approach” to establishing peace in the deep South. The approach would make the issue a national agenda, revoke restrictions on freedom of expression, and restructure the local bureaucracy.

Fair Party has also called for the abolition of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) and the Internal Security Operation Command (Isoc)’s local unit, as well as the withdrawal of troops and election of provincial governors.

Resolving conflict in the restive border region is one of the issues included in the eight-party coalition’s memorandum of understanding (MoU), though the language was toned down to make it “more acceptable” to other partners, Kannavee said. For instance, the MoU merely calls for a “review” of the missions of security agencies like SBPAC and Isoc and not their dissolution.

He also dismissed criticism that his party’s deep South policy is too radical. “It’s practical,” he said.

South Sudan experience

Formerly posted in South Sudan as official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kannavee says he will apply his experience in the war-torn African nation to help restore peace in the deep South.

“The principle of human rights must take the lead. Peace talks must involve politicians and civil society. Talks between soldiers can’t lead to peace,” he said.

Kannavee said his party’s “roadmap” for the deep South should help improve the situation within four years. The first two years would be spent constructing a “peace-building structure” and setting the national agenda, while the remaining two would be used to implement the roadmap.

“You need more than four years to do this [restore peace] in any country. It took 10 years in South Sudan where I worked,” he said.

Kannavee has been openly critical of the Thai government’s handling of violence in the restive region. He recently reiterated his party’s call for an end to the use of security and emergency laws, which he said contributed to the violence. He also demanded the abolition of Isoc, saying its powers have been consistently abused.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk