“When love and faith decline”: Three “orange-turned-red” youths explain.

  •  “Orange turning to red” refers to people who used to support the Future Forward Party and the Move Forward Party, both of which use orange as their colour, but changed their mind to support the Pheu Thai Party, which uses red as its campaign colour.
  • In the 2023 general election, many activists ran as MP candidates for the Move Forward Party and were elected. Meanwhile, another group of activists has been very vocal about their support for the Pheu Thai Party, although the policies in Pheu Thai’s platform do not seem to match the demands issued by pro-democracy activists over the last few years.
  • In a heart-to-heart conversation, three young activists open up about why they changed their minds and now vote Pheu Thai.

The Move Forward Party emerged top of the poll in the 2023 election, winning in provinces that were once Pheu Thai strongholds.

Read about why three Red Shirt women now vote Move Forward:

From being a Southerner who never looked at Pheu Thai before

“I got to really see how they work, the process of thinking (policy), what it’s missing, and what they have to fight with. Being Pheu Thai or being Thaksin or being a worker with Thais is not that they can do everything easily at all. Then, when faced with the fact that they did all this work, they suffered a coup

“So, I then started having empathy toward the Pheu Thai Party. Oh my, what political party before now suffered a coup twice, suffered party dissolution. Meanwhile I grew up among Southerners who are fans of the Democrats, who attacked Pheu Thai and Thaksin all the time, and were also the organizers of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) mob calling for a coup. My eyes were finally opened,” said Sugreeya “Mindmint” Wannayuwat, a student activist from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education.

Sugreeya Wannayuwat

In March 2021, Sugreeya joined Pheu Thai’s the Change Maker Project. Getting to see how it work, combined with disillusionment regarding the Move Forward Party’s “new politics” and the party’s lack of organization, drew her towards Pheu Thai.

But being vocal about her support of Pheu Thai led to questions among her middle-class social circle, even from those who call themselves pro-democracy.

“It must be Change Maker that made it possible for a student from Sam Yan [Chulalongkorn University] to be bought.” Rumours like this are just one part of it.

Sugreeya (center) on a poster for the Changemaker project (Photo from Facebook of THINK Kid Pheu Thai)

Back when she started her pro-democracy activism and a photo was taken of her holding a poster in support of former Future Forward party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Sugreeya said she was the darling of academics everywhere who must have thought she shared their beliefs. All that changed when she began supporting Pheu Thai and its leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

During the 2019 general election, the Future Forward Party was the only political party that reflected the way of thinking of the generation who had the right to vote for the first time.

At Sugreeya’s hometown in the south, she is surrounded by Democrat voters who are anti-Thaksin and all she heard was that he was dishonest. She said she felt she couldn’t vote Democrat, but didn’t know enough about Pheu Thai to vote for the party. Into the space stepped the Future Forward party, which she said she liked “because it was ‘new politics’.” 

“I didn’t have a place to stand. I was turning 18 years old. I was going to vote for the first time after the coups. There was no party that interested me. I didn’t know which party to vote for. Suddenly there was this party that emerged,” Sugreeya said.

The idea of “new politics” ignited new hope among a great number of the younger generation like Sugreeya, who believed in it wholeheartedly because she believes that politics must be about the people’s rights and protecting their interest. Future Forward was not like other political parties because it didn’t see the people as pawns. 

Using terminology from celebrity fan culture, Sugreeya said her “main,” or favourite person, was Thanatorn. During party events, she was there with a 2,500-baht ticket for a front row seat. The events were like a celebrity fan meeting, too, with photos, handshakes, and Q&A sessions.

Sugreeya (in the pink shirt on the left) holding an iPad displaying an electronic sign saying “Fah loves Daddy,” a phrase used among younger voters to show support for Thanathorn, on 11 February 2019.

(Photo supplied by Sugreeya Wannayuwat)

Sugreeya began her activism by joining other student activists at Chulalongkorn University at protests. From selling cookies and books at these demonstrations, Sugreeya became known as an activist when she helped organise a protest in July 2020 to call for women’s and LGBTQ rights, as well as calling the government out for their failure in the way they handled the Covid-19 pandemic and demanding the dissolution of parliament.

As the pro-democracy protests intensified, so was their suppression. At the time, Sugreeya described herself as a hardcore Move Forward supporter. However, the first moment of doubt arrived during a conversation with the party leadership when she joined them for a meal. A person at the table asked when Move Forward party leaders or former Future Forward leaders like Thanathorn or Piyabutr Saengkanokkul would lead the protests and they were told that they are waiting “for the ball to come to [their] feet.” Sugreeya noted that this angered a few others at the table.

She also noted that someone from the party would be present at almost every activists’ meeting she joined.

“They wanted to first wait for us to be in more danger than this or what? I didn’t understand. … In the end, are we part of this or not? In the end, what are we? Are we fighting together or are the protests actually a tool where you have to wait for the right moment before you come out to take action?” she asked.

Sugreeya and friends during a protest in Chulalongkorn University after the Constitutional Court of Thailand ordered the dissolution of the Future Forward Party (Photo supplied by Sugreeya Wannayuwat)

When human rights lawyer and activist Anon Nampa and other protest leaders were arrested in 2020, Sugreeya and her friends organised a protest at the Pathumwan Intersection to call for their release. She said she was approached by a person claiming to be from the Move Forward Party. The person was well-dressed, told her they had a PhD, and asked her to give a speech attacking Pheu Thai and Sudarat Keyuraphan for collaborating with the military to set up a national government.

Although Sugreeya did not know if Pheu Thai would actually go through with the alleged deal, she said in her speech she knew what Pheu Thai was up to. She was later attacked by Pheu Thai supporters, but at the time, she believed that Pheu Thai was obligated to answer the public’s questions, regardless of whether it was true or not.

Sugreeya said the person who approached her is now an MP. Meanwhile, she took a break from organising protests. Having had time to reflect, she now wondered whether she was used as a tool to attack Pheu Thai.

“I feel that it is a matter of power relations which are not equal. I am just an activist, being just one person that wants to do everything I can. And I also didn’t know what kind of feedback I would get from what I said. I spoke in a tight situation … I might have been a real fool to believe them and get up to speak at that time. But is it right or not that they did this to me?” she said.

Sugreeya selling cookies at a Free YOUTH protest at the Democracy Monument on 18 July 2020 (Photo supplied by Sugreeya Wannayuwat)

Sugreeya also said that she became disillusioned with the idea of “new politics” when parties attack each other in election campaigns. Although she said she has no problem with former supporters of the conservative People's Democratic Reform Committee who are now supporting Move Forward, she said she takes issue with people who “have destroyed democracy” calling other people out for having no ideals or that they do not fight for democracy.

“Democracy has many meanings, many forms, many methods. So the people who destroyed democracy before, one day see the light and then think that they are better than anyone. For me, this is something I cannot accept,” she said.

As a former volunteer for the Move Forward Party, Sugreeya alleged that she was once left to run an e-sport tournament by herself, while an education project she worked on for an MP was cancelled halfway through. She feels that, although what she faced is only her personal experience, it is a good indicator of how the party works and raises the question of whether it can run the country when its small events are disorganised.

Sugreeya and friends took to the stage of a large Pheu Thai Party event, in the final campaign before the general election (Photo supplied by Sugreeya Wannayuwat)

When asked about what she expects from the Pheu Thai-led government, Sugreeya said Pheu Thai must do what it promised during its election campaign. She sees it as the most capable of tackling economic matters, and it can prove itself by reducing the cost of living, including electricity costs and train fares. It must make whatever deal it needs to that would benefit the people, she said.

“I like sincere political parties”

“What I don’t like is that the orange party (candidates) posted requests for volunteers in many areas. I joined to help in one district of Bangkok. That orange party (candidate) didn’t have sufficient leadership. The party didn’t intervene to supervise. The tasks were not being allocated at all. After joining, I had to ask all the time how I could help that week,” said Pumpath “Pat” Hirunweewish, a third year student at the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University.

Pumpath said he changed his mind and is now supporting Pheu Thai because he disliked the disorganised system inside the Move Forward Party. He also ultimately found its attitude insincere and was more impressed with policies being proposed by Pheu Thai.

From left: Pumpath Hirunweewish and Namfah Pannengpetch

In his high school days, Pumpath was a student activist campaigning against the rampant authoritarianism in Thai schools. He was also one of the Mathayom 6 (Year 12) students who filed a joint lawsuit at the Administrative Court in March 2021 requesting the postponement of the Thai University Central Admission System (TCAS) examinations, as the exams were taking place one after another and there were no Covid-19 prevention measures.

He said that the complainants were being supported by Pheu Thai, who had its legal team assisting them with the lawsuit and coordination with the media. He noted, however, that they were not being given money.

 Pumpath and other students meeting at the Pheu Thai Party before going to file a case at the court (Photo from Pheu Thai Party)

“The first time I worked with Pheu Thai on filing the lawsuit to postpone the exams, I met Dr. Ying (Linthiporn Varinwatchararoj, Pheu Thai spokesperson). I feel that the legal team of Pheu Thai paid more attention to our group of activists. We wanted to sue on this issue and not sue on that issue. They paid attention whether we could travel and if we could meet here first. I felt that we were being listened to,” Pumpath said.

At Thammasat University, Pumpath campaigned for monarchy reform with other young activists. He also joined a feminist group at the university to campaign for gender equality, as he perceived gender injustice in the university and the pro-democracy movement, where there have been reports of sexual assaults involving activists taking off condoms during sex, while the alleged rapists are still allowed to speak at protests.

He also noted the patriarchal attitude among the rank of political parties, but personally, he found Pheu Thai more acceptable because it organised an exhibition on free sanitary pads for all, while several Move Forward Party members have face sexual violence allegations, including its former leader and candidate for Prime Minister Pita Limjaroenrat, who was accused of domestic violence against his ex-wife, actress Chutima “Tye” Teepanat. Such allegations have raised questions about whether party members’ actions are in contradiction to its values.

The domestic violence case against Pita was dismissed in 2019 due to insufficient evidence that Chutima’s injuries were a result of domestic violence perpetrated by Pita. According to a Thairath Online report, Chutima said in an interview on NineEntertain that the investigation concluded that, although there was physical violence, it does not constitute domestic abuse. However, it affected her mental health and made her concerned about continuing to live with him. Several media outlets, including WorkpointTODAY and Thairath, have also reported that Chutima felt restricted in her marriage as her ex-husband was imposing rules on her, from setting her a curfew of 18.00 and asking her not to mix with male-presenting LGBTQ friends, to monitoring her with a CCTV camera and making her apologize to him for saying that she found Hollywood star Robert Downy Jr sexy.

Several other members of the party also face sexual assault allegations. In 2022, a member of the Bangkok Metropolitan Council was accused of sexually assaulting several victims, some of whom are minors, while another council member was accused of sexually assaulting a trans woman on his staff. He later sued the lawyer who made the issue public for criminal and civil defamation. In early September 2023, a female spokesperson for a political party claimed she was sexually assaulted by a former Move Forward MP candidate for a district in Chaiyaphum.

Namfah (centre) and Pumpath (right) at a demonstration on 26 July 2023 at the Sanya Dharmasakti Monument, Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus.

Pumpath said that he often received an anti-feminist backlash when he posted about gender issues on social media. The attacks became more frequent when he became vocal about his support for Pheu Thai, which affected his mental health to the point of having to see a psychotherapist. Meanwhile, at university, he is known as a radical who campaigns about everything.

“We came out to say that we are 10.9 million bullfrogs who voted for this government. Then one academic came out to say that this government is a bullfrog government that keeps its eggs in its body until it is full, and soon will be caught and eaten by northeasterners and become extinct. I’d say how can you take it that far? I only like bullfrogs because it’s on TikTok’,” Pumpath said, using a term often used by Pheu Thai voters to refer to themselves, which comes from a sense of sarcastic humour and a feeling of inferiority.

Feeling alienated from the mainstream with a seemingly high moral, Pheu Thai supporters, who call themselves “women props,” often have a sense of self-deprecating humour that is understood only among the group. Pumpath said that the expression began as a response to online spats between Move Forward and Pheu Thai supporters. One “woman prop” responded that people who choose Move Forward often say that it comes from 14 million voters. If so, another 10.9 million people who voted for Pheu Thai are bullfrogs or what?

Not buying MFP; society is ready to raise questions

“If I was an ordinary activist, I would not think of turning away from Move Forward. But it turned out that one MP candidate is anti-feminist. He is a Thai man who makes sexist jokes, and abuses Islam, but still has space in the media and ran for MP and the party was thinking about sending him to this area. So, this is like, what? In the end, how do you raise the issue of gender equity in the party?” said Namfah ‘Fah' Pannengpetch, a 3rd-year student at the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University.

Namfah calls herself a feminist and a “prop.” She said she used to join activities with Move Forward, but changed her mind to support Pheu Thai because she felt that the party’s actions were in contradiction to what they are trying to propose.

Namfah

Namfah went to a girls’ high school in Nonthaburi. She started to campaigning against authoritarianism in schools and for gender equality. She changed her mind to support Pheu Thai after meeting someone who worked for Move Forward at a workshop organized by the Progressive Movement in Songkhla.

As a political science student, Namfah said she was questioned and ridiculed by others in the Faculty for supporting Pheu Thai. While she was able to have a discussion with some who questioned her, she found that some Move Forward supporters expect certain answers and she would be seen as too much of a “prop” if she doesn’t give the expected answers.

When rumours began to spread that Pheu Thai would break the 8-party coalition it formed with Move Forward and join a coalition with parties led by former junta leaders, Namfah said she felt she was being made fun of in class when the lecturer said, tongue-in-cheek, that people who voted Pheu Thai might be feeling foolish and regretting their choice.

“The lecturer was standing and talking right in front of my desk and looked at my face. Then they turned to look at my friends saying that they were just joking, because we are close. I was speechless and then said yes. The professor said that that’s OK. People have different conditions for why they vote or don’t vote,” she said.

Namfah previously had a class with this lecturer in the semester before the election and had told them she liked Pheu Thai more than Move Forward, but what the lecturer said did not shock her as much as her classmates’ giggling.

“Our university doesn’t have any space for people who already vote for the red party. When you vote for the orange party, the more you are an activist, the more glorification you get. But if you vote for the red party and you say anything, people will find fault with you, question you, and look at you as if you were an online troll hired by the party.” 

When asked what she expects from Pheu Thai, Namfah said the party should not do anything that is undemocratic. Constitutional amendments, for example, should be done by a Constituent Assembly in which at least half of its members are elected.

“Pheu Thai has chosen to use the power of the state to deal with other problems that have happened. Move Forward swallows ideology more than to looking to action. Other people may buy this. But I don’t buy the solutions of Move Forward. I don’t say that they are not good. Just that I don’t buy them,” she said.

Since she saw the result of the election, Namfah said, she saw the possibility of a coalition with former junta leaders and supporters. However, she said she was disappointed that Pheu Thai formed a coalition with Palang Pracharat and United Thai Nation, and she would prefer if Pheu Thai and Move Forward continued working together. But if Move Forward is still part of the coalition, she believes the Senate would not let a government be formed, and so she believes that one must choose any option that would allow a government to be formed as soon as possible.

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