The heart of democracy lies in the people’s participation

Phetchompoo Kiara Kijburana is a One Young World delegate from Thailand. She was delegate speaker during the Leadership and Government Plenary Session at the 2014 Summit in Dublin.

To the people of Thailand, the 1st November 2013 represents a loss in democratic justice; for this was the day that the Thai government legislated an ‘amnesty bill’ through the lower house of Parliament. Dubbed the ‘Graft Amnesty Bill’, it sought to pardon anyone facing charges arising from the entirety of Thailand’s political conflicts from 2004 to 2010.

While the term ‘amnesty’ may suggest an effort at reconciliation, the fine details betrayed its supposed purpose. If it had successfully passed through the Senate, in effect , the bill would have exonerated many top politicians from corruption and criminal charges.Thai politics had crossed into dangerous territory.

In many countries around the world, politics is stigmatised precisely because of the amount of corruption, cronyism and dishonesty within the different government systems. However, in those cases the legal system dictates that perpetrators of such crimes should be rightly punished.

It is one thing when a government uses populist policies to gain an electoral base, but it is entirely another when the executives are able to grant themselves amnesty. This was a massive abuse of power, and the people realised it. Uniting under Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty”, the Thai people understood that this was the time to make a stand against their injustices.

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To rise up against such injustice was no easy task; given that over sixty per cent of the Thai population still believes that corruption is acceptable as long as they too benefit from it. Anyone who challenges this notion is more often than not intimidated into silence. Being part of the young Thai generation, I could not just stand by and watch corruption become part of the national culture: I was not alone in thinking this.

It is within our powers, as a young generation, to effect change in society, and to fight for a better, more wholesome future. If we allow our passiveness to take over when the event calls for active participation, we must be prepared to accept the consequences of our inaction. Young people of today are full of passion and life - it is a matter of channeling that very passion into political participation; that is when real change begins.

Joining in on the uprising against the bill, alongside millions of others, was a humbling experience. People sacrificed their time, energy, and hard-earned money in hopes of creating a better country.  Unfortunately, our movement was met with threats and violence. I was given an opportunity to speak on four separate occasions to live audiences of over 100,000 people on the topics of corruption and the true meaning of democracy. Afterwards however, people who disagreed with my views threatened to attack, or even rape me, if they ever saw me on the street.

During the course of our seven-month peaceful protest, weapons of war – M16 and M79 rifles – were used on the protesters, and our protest sites were attacked daily. In total, 28 men, women and children died, and 834 innocent civilians were injured. The criminals were never brought to justice for these hate crimes.

Fear has been used so many times in the past to force protesters to back down, but it did not work this time. The more violence they used against the unarmed protesters, the more our number swelled - from hundreds to thousands, and from thousands to millions. There was strength in our numbers, and definitely strength in our message. This new generation are a lot more vigilant, a lot more politically aware, and a lot more politically involved. Any corrupt practices will be met with a strong opposition. The heart of democracy lies in the people’s participation.

Our protest came to an end when the military stepped in to maintain order. We realise the need for the military to step in is far from ideal, but the political system was failing and something had to be done. The international community was quick in their condemnation of the coup because they overlooked how Thailand was grinding to a halt under the weight of all the civil protests. If the military had not intervened, further bloodshed would have been inevitable.

We are determined, as a united nation, to use this opportunity to reform our democracy once and for all. Experts from various fields are working together in the reform process and things are beginning to fall into place. What Thailand now needs is time to heal.

Thailand fought hard to become the host city for One Young World 2015, and we were successful. Therefore, I would like to use this opportunity to  formally extend our invitation to all of you. Thailand is a beautiful country that is filled with a dynamic and rich culture. We would be most delighted to be able to share that beauty with you. The ‘Land of Smiles’ may be in the process of defining our democracy, but we are also ready to host this event which has helped change the world for the better. Join us in Bangkok next year, and together we can help create a truly unified world that is both progressive and compassionate.

You can watch the One Young World Summit as it happens here: www.oneyoungworld.com.