Chaturon casts himself a new political role
In his 34 years as a politician, Chaturon Chaisang has never been out of the spotlight. Despite being ousted by three coups, seeing his parties dissolved twice and being banned from politics once, the 64-year-old has never lost sight of his professed core aim – to restore democracy in Thailand.
Now, the former chief strategist of the dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party is in the process of forming a new party.
Barely two weeks before the election was held on March 24 last year, Thai Raksa Chart was disbanded by the Constitutional Court for nominating Princess Ubolratana, the eldest sister of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn, as its sole prime ministerial candidate.
Chaturon, who left Pheu Thai to join its offshoot Thai Raksa Chart, which was formed specially to boost their chances in the election, survived a ban from politics when it was dissolved because he was not an executive.
As a politician without a party, Chaturon said he has been talking about the current political situation with other politicians, business people, former state officials and the young generation, and they all agree that a new political party should be formed to offer voters an alternative.
“Our party will be independent from Pheu Thai [his former party] and other parties. It won’t even be a branch of the now-defunct Thai Raksa Chart, but a gathering of people from different fields who will come together to build a party for the people,” he said.
Chaturon revealed his plan at around the same time as Phumtham Wechayachai, a former Pheu Thai secretary-general, announced that his group was planning to form a new political movement or party.
Though Chaturon has made it clear that his and Phumtham’s party are not the same, he did not rule out the possibility of allying with a party dedicated to democratic ideals.
With voters generally disappointed by the existing parties, Chaturon’s plan to establish a new one has caught the attention of observers, though many doubt if he will be successful.
Yet, one thing is certain: Chaturon is known for his determination and persistence when it comes to democratic principles and has never hesitated to stand up against anything or anyone who violates democracy. As such, he has also played a core role in the fight against dictatorship and coup-makers who extend their time in power.
When the fate of his now-defunct Thai Raksa Chart Party was uncertain after the King issued a statement prohibiting his older sister from entering politics, Chaturon was bold enough to announce that he would not abandon the party.
“Who says ‘fleas jump off a dying dog’? I don’t believe the party will be dissolved easily, and even if it’s really dissolved, I will stay right till the end, just as I did when Thai Rak Thai [TRT] was disbanded,” said the man who was lined up to be Thai Raksa Chart’s PM candidate before Princess Ubolratana got the nod.
And he refused to stay quiet even when the party was eventually dissolved.
“Throughout my 33 years in politics, I have always worn two hats – one as a politician and the other as an activist who wants to a create a better society. And that means I keep fighting even when I don’t hold any position,” Chaturon said.
“If I ever stop fighting or change my ideology, my life will be nothing.”
From a leftist student activist, to being named one of Asia’s top 20 outstanding leaders by Asia Week, to an icon of anti-junta protest – Chaturon has enjoyed a roller-coaster career.
The eldest son of a family of politicians, Chaturon followed in the footsteps of his father Anan, a prominent liberal politician. Chaturon’s younger brother and sister soon followed suit.
His early life reached a turning point when he became involved in a pro-democracy student movement, which initiated the October 14, 1973 uprising against the military dictatorship of Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn. At that time, Chaturon was studying at the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University.
After the Thammasat University massacre in October 6, 1976, Chaturon – then president of the Students Union of Chiang Mai University – joined the rebel Communist Party of Thailand and went undercover, hiding in the party’s camps in the jungle. He then took off for the United States, where he earned a Bachelor’s in economics at the State University of New York and a Master’s in economics from the American University in Washington.
After returning to Thailand in 1986, the 30-year-old embarked on a parliamentary career with the Democrat Party as a first-time MP in his hometown of Chachoengsao. Though he often switched his allegiances, joining a total of seven parties so far, his position as a “third-wave” politician always helped him win the trust of party leaders.
Following his stint with the Democrat Party, Chaturon shifted to the People’s Party and then to Chartthai. After 1992’s Black May crackdown on the uprising against the government of General Suchinda Kraprayoon, Chaturon joined General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh’s New Aspiration Party where he became a “poster boy” and spokesman for the new political outfit.
He was given his first Cabinet post as deputy finance minister from 1996 to 1997 under the Chavalit government. He later served as secretary-general for the New Aspiration Party from 1999 until he left in 2000.
Chaturon then joined parties that were loyal to the Shinawatra clan and began playing a leading role in the now-defunct TRT, its reincarnation Pheu Thai and its offshoot Thai Raksa Chart.
He also held several high positions – including PM’s office minister, justice minister, deputy PM and education minister – during the governments led by the Shinawatra siblings.
Throughout his political rise, Chaturon never wavered in his loyalty to Thaksin despite all the scandals surrounding the former prime minister. “Khun Thaksin tried too hard to do good for the country and he suffered the consequence,” he once said in an interview about Thaksin’s downfall.
After Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by the September 2006 coup, Chaturon lost his ministerial post and became the interim TRT leader after Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan declined the post. When the party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court in May 2007, Chaturon was banned from politics for five years.
In 2009, Chaturon joined the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship, also known as the red-shirt movement. Thaksin reportedly wanted Chaturon to become one of the core leaders, but that ambition was thwarted by the network’s fractured and decentralised structure.
After his political ban was over, Chaturon returned to political office in June 2013 as education minister in Yingluck’s administration, before being once again removed by the May 2014 coup.
Chaturon was the only politician to defy a summons from the National Council for Peace and Order following the coup and was arrested five days later after hosting a news conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand.
He is currently being tried for defying the junta’s summonses, violating the Computer-Related Crime Act as well as for sedition under Article 116 of the Criminal Code.
While these cases are being fought in court, the junta has put all his financial transactions on hold for close to five years and revoked his passport for three years to prevent him leaving the country while facing charges.
By ThaiPBS World’s Political Desk