The Assembly of the Poor was certainly the biggest and most influential farmers' movement that emerged after 1973, a landmark year that opened up politics with the student uprising. Although the assembly is now no more, its offshoot P-move is still carrying on its unfinished work to improve the rights of the downtrodden.
Supporters of the People’s Movement for a Just Society rally in front of the Bank of Thailand’s northern office in Chiang Mai this year. The organisation is growing impatient with the government’s failure to implement policy pledges. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD
Short for People's Movement for a Just Society, P-move consists of many members of the defunct Assembly of the Poor. They include the Anti-Pak Moon Dam Network, the Four-Region Slums Network, the Northern Farmers Federation, the Northeastern Land Reform Network, the Southern Farmers Federation and the Bantad Mountain Range Land Reform Network. These groups had earlier come together to form the Land Reform Network of Thailand before joining the new P-move movement.
This land reform movement has been quite successful in rallying its causes such as community land ownership, setting up a land bank for the landless and the need for more progressive land tax.
Of course, this does not mean all P-move's policy proposals have been adopted as public policy with effective implementation by state mechanisms. But there has been clear progress in some policies such as community land deeds, which are now endorsed by a royal decree, the setting up of a Community Land Deed Office and the actual issuance of community land deeds to two communities.
Some ideas, such as limited land ownership, remain just that _ ideas for public debate.
Apart from land reform networks, P-move also includes other grassroots movements that have been affected by state policies. They include the networks against dams, mining and electricity projects and top-down biomass energy factories. P-move also campaigns for the stateless, contract farmers' rights and the amendment of unfair laws against forest dwellers.
Before P-move's latest rally in Bangkok, the organisation staged several demonstrations that succeeded in persuading the Pheu Thai government to include the land bank and community land ownership in its policy announcements last year.
Interestingly, P-move has been condemned by many red-shirt supporters as an opportunist, even an anti-democracy force, since its leadership is not part of the red movement.
After Pheu Thai's election victory, P-move staged a postcard campaign to the prime minister and presented petitions to provincial governors and provincial party offices to pressure for land reform.
On Aug 8 last year, P-move's motorcycle and car motorcades from the North, the South and the Northeast joined the urban poor organisations in Bangkok to push the government to include their policy proposals in Pheu Thai's policy pledges. Which it did.
On Oct 3 last year, the government agreed to follow up on the previous government's policy on land community deeds, a land bank, housing security and a promise to consider P-move's other proposals.
Fed up with delays, P-move representatives petitioned Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Jan 14 for the government to deliver its promises. As a result, she ordered the setting up of a committee chaired by Yongyuth Wichaidit, then deputy prime minister, to set up 10 subcommittees to deal with specific issues of concerns.
A year has passed and nothing has moved due to strong resistance from the centralised bureaucracy. P-move's important policy issues on community ownership and land bank have also been severely distorted. Meanwhile, past policy resolutions to solve the rights problems of many Thais have not been implemented. The same goes for hundreds of other problems under P-move's umbrella.
This week, P-move resorted to another motorcade rally to pressure the government to put its policy promises into action. With an imminent cabinet reshuffle, it also called for the removal of cabinet ministers who have insisted on keeping policy promises on the backburner.
In this round of street protests, P-move is pushing for immediate policy implementation of the land bank for the landless, a follow-up on community land deeds, budget allocation for the Ban Man Kong housing security project and assistance for the homeless. All these are part of the June 20 resolution P-move reached with the government.
Another hot issue is the crackdown on forest communities that are entitled to protection because they are under the community land ownership programme. The crackdown was carried out under a May 20 cabinet resolution that must be revoked, P-move demands.
On the stateless, the movement is pushing for policy implementation in line with earlier cabinet resolutions to restore the local cultures and livelihoods of the ethnic Thai Karen and Moken sea gypsies. It also wants action on ministerial regulations that violate the Nationality Bill that grants Thai nationality to diasporas. The movement also reiterates the need to open the sluice gates of the Pak Moon Dam to allow the free flow of the river.
In short, policy stalling is no longer acceptable.
Will the government listen? The scenario is not so positive. Amid the all-out push for industrialisation and the government's strong confidence of mass support through its various populist policies, it is easy to predict that P-move's struggles for justice for the poor will not be easily won. Most possibly, what it will get is another set of committees and subcommittees without the government's political will to follow through on promises.
It is hoped that red supporters and intellectuals will be able to understand that this P-move demonstration is not aimed at chasing out the government of which they are so protective. The issues addressed by this grassroots movement have deep structural roots. They have gone through so many years of struggle and negotiations.
The latest rally and petitions are just the movement's last resort to break the deadlock so that efforts to resolve the problems can move forward.
Prapas Pintobtaeng is assistant professor in political science, Chulalongkorn University.
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Writer: Prapas Pintobtaeng