Contact Us

Politics Possible Podcast: How Pita Limjaroenrat Took On Political Manipulation in Thailand

Thought Leader: Evan Feigenbaum
July 1, 2024

Politics Possible is project from Evan Feigenbaum, a former American diplomat, and Alena Popova, a Russian oppositionist, to rekindle shattered faith in the power of politics and navigate the promise and perils of technology. Young politicians, entrepreneurs, and technologists should join forces — this podcast is their call to action.

How to beat a coup leader, Thai style

How could the party that won the most votes and seats and helped boot a coup leader from office face court-ordered dissolution just one year later? Pita Limjaroenrat changed the face of Thailand’s politics by leading his Move Forward Party to a huge win in 2023 parliamentary elections. But he was blocked from the prime ministership, hauled through the courts, and may now face the imminent dissolution of his party and a personal ban from politics.

Pita tells us how he won, how he perseveres, and what aspiring politicos everywhere can learn from Thailand about campaign tactics, voter targeting, social media, and how to win against the odds.

Transcript:

Evan: It’s Politics Possible, a podcast about the unconventional forces and technologies reshaping conventional politics, and acall to action for young politicians, entrepreneurs, and tech whizzes to fightfor a better future. I’m Evan Feigenbaum, a former American diplomat whoadvised two Secretaries of State and a former Secretary of the Treasury.

Alena: And I’m Alena Popova, a Russian opposition politician and women’s rights activist. I ran for office and was oppressed, surveilled, and repeatedly detained by Vladimir Putin’s regime. I’ve worked in politics, technology, law, and civic action.

Evan: And I’ve also had to deal with some of the world’s dark forces, but in the very different world of geopolitics and diplomatic negotiations. We come from two parallel universes, and our countries have become strategic adversaries.

Alena: But we’re still passionate about what politics can do. And we think young people around the world need to learn from each other to secure a democratic and open future.

Evan: In today’s episode, we’re talking to Pita Limjaroenrat, a young politician who’s changed the face of Thailand’s politics in just a few short years by leading his Move Forward Party to a huge win in 2023 parliamentary elections.

Newsclip 1: [Pita Limjaroenrat in Thai]

Newsclip 2: “To Thailand now, where it seems the general election dealt a devastating blow to military influence in the country’s House of Representatives, with the opposition party racking up a majority of seats. As almost all the votes have been counted on Monday, the party known as the Move Forward Party, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, emerged as the big winner.”

Newsclip 3: “The people of Thailand have already spoken their wish. And I am ready to be the prime minister for all, whether you agree with me, or you disagree with me.”

AlenaPita won, in part because he mobilized young and progressive voters who were fed up not just with military influence but with the entire political establishment.

Evan: But Pita was blocked from becoming prime minister because of a military-drafted constitution that allowed legislators appointed by a military junta to veto him. And he’s since been caught up in court cases that have tried to disqualify him, and possibly outlaw his political party because it pledged to reform an article of Thailand’s law that criminalizes criticizing the monarchy.

EvanPita, we know you’re sitting in Bangkok and it’s June 12th—we’re actually recording this on the date that your party has a court date. And so I’m wondering if you can just, first, set a little bit of a scene for us. Give us a sense of how you got here to June 12th and what’s going to happen between June 12th and June 19th, and where you think it’s going to land.

Pita: You’re exactly right. You’re exactly on point. Today is June 12th. Right here in Bangkok is the date where the Constitutional Court will convene together and decide how to proceed with my and with our party’s case on treason and insurrection. So that’s the accusation. They equated our attempted amendment of a criminal code Lèse-majesté Law, as treason, as insurrection, as an attempt to overthrow the country, which is a very harsh sentence for a lawmaker like me.

Pita: So I think the verdict will come out maybe in two or three hours, and we’ll see how much time we have to fight, what kind of procedure will be allowed for us to lay out our defenses, our arguments. Hopefully it will be the rule of law here in Thailand, and that allows me to argue my case, explain my intentions, use facts and a legal basis [to explain] that I am not a “treason,” I am not an “insurrection,” and am, well, for the country of Thailand, my beloved country.

Evan: And do you feel like the judicial system and the legal system are set up to make a legal argument? Because this is a political case. It’s not—I mean, it’s a political case around an article of law, Article 112, but clearly the reason they’re coming after you, and they’re threatening to ban the party, is political, not legal.

Evan: So you’re fighting a political battle with legal means. Is that likely to happen for you?

Pita: Yes, I mean, it’s a judicial process of the Constitutional Court. It’s not like any regular court that you have, where you set up procedures that you have witnesses and things like that. It could be happening today, or it could be happening next week that the Constitutional Court will vote whether to dissolve our party or not.

Pita: And you are absolutely correct that it’s not just about the legal basis. And my chances, frankly, if you look at the past or historical cycles of judicial process against elected officials, elected parliamentarian like myself—his will be the second time in five years for our movement. Our predecessor was the Future Forward Party, and now I’m the designated survivor—now I lead the Move Forward Party, which is number two. So within that five years, they’ve dissolved us twice.

Pita: But if we “Quentin Tarantino” this, and we look back a little bit, just to give a takeaway to our listeners and our audiences, it’s five times [of party dissolutions] in 20 years. So it’s very much clear that there’s a tyranny of the minority. There’s a constitutional hardball that stops people that have been elected by the people of Thailand, where they have the linkages between their mandate and the people who voted for them.

Pita: This has been a vicious cycle in Thailand in the past 20 years, where, if you look back a little bit further, Thailand is the country with the largest number of military coups. 12 times since 1932. So you probably can see a pattern a little bit here. And it’s not just happening to me personally. It’s not just happening to the party. It’s the old guard of politics, acting as the establishment—an inertia within democracy.

Pita: Here in Thailand that comes before, we were talking today, from the military. But now it’s from the judicial process.

Pita: Back to you. Alena, go ahead.

Alena: Yeah, I’m very familiar with this stuff because we have the same in my country. So they try to just exclude you from politics for sure, especially in opposition.

Alena: And so I faced that, and many people in my country are now in prison because of that. So how do you feel about this? What will you do afterwards if you lose, let’s say?

Pita: Well, the journey continues, just like for you. We’ll have scenarios of what could happen. We are very confident in our legal basis, and facts, and our intentions.

Pita: But as Evan said, this is about a political calculus. So obviously there are some things that [we can do] to make sure that [we] increase the cost of “killing” me, to make it as high as possible, whether it’s from [a decline in the regime’s] legitimacy, whether it’s the way the international community views Thailand, whether it’s the domestic political dynamics itself. But at the same time, you have to really make sure that you have, that you fight for the best [outcome] and you prepare for the worst as well.

Pita: And like I mentioned to you earlier, the listeners probably heard me say that this is the second time in five years, so it’s like moving to a new house. But the thing is, our political movement and our political party in Thailand won minds and hearts of the people in the last election. That’s not just about the name of the party. It’s not just about the logo or the color that represented the party, but it’s about the ideas and the strong intentions to bring a fresh possibility of politics.

Pita: And so it’s just like your show, right? “Politics Possible.” Politics to see that Thailand can actually escape from the vicious cycle that I had described to you earlier, whether it’s a cycle as a military coup over and over again, whether it’s a cycle of disbanding political parties in government and in opposition that came from the people, and things like that.

Pita: Hopefully we be able to continue the journey, despite having me or not having me as a leader. But to me personally, I feel like I’ve done everything I can. Maybe if we need a new party, or the next version 3. 0—right? there was a version 1. 0 and 2. 0, so there’ll be a 3.0.

Evan: Yeah, but you’ve got one distinction. You mentioned that there have been all these coups in Thailand, but you actually defeated the coup leader at the ballot box. Because the sitting prime minister, Mr. Prayut, was somebody who had staged a military coup.

Evan: And you did that by mobilizing voters, but also by mobilizing younger voters and progressive voters and urban voters. So is that the way to break the cycle? You bring a different set of people into politics—folks who have not been politically active? And so that breaks the cycle that you’ve seen in Thailand before, because you just have people with different expectations.

Pita: So essentially what you’re saying is ballots over bullets.

Evan: Well, but you’ve had ballots before. But the difference is that this time the people casting the ballots are younger and so they have different experiences of mobilization in Thai political life. Maybe they’re not as accepting as older generations might have been of the way things work.

Evan: And so, what I’m asking you is, if you mobilize younger people, you get people that want to break the cycle, yes?

Pita: I understand you totally. But what I’m trying to say is, yes, in democracy, in hybrid democracy in Thailand, for example, there are—it’s not just, I would say it’s competitive autocracy, it’s dictatorship that allows elections once in a while, let’s put it that way. And then this time, when there was an election after a lost decade of General Prayut, the coup leader, and the prime minister, the military prime minister, we won by a landslide. He came number five or number six, or something like that, and we came number one.

Pita: So yes, there’s some hope that came out of that election. But democracy is not just about elections. There’s many things. There’s the ability to control the agenda. The freedom of the press. There’s the ability to transfer power in a peaceful way and things like that. So it’s not perfect, but we had a chance and we had some hope.

Pita: It was a hopeful year that we broke that kind of cycle. But then the cycle struck back and it’s continuing still.

Pita: That’s why, from an election leader, to prime minister-designate, to becoming a parliamentarian-at-risk—I’m that “almost prime minister” that you probably hear about in The New York Times or in the Financial Times. That says that we still have a lot of work to do now.

Pita: But the point that I wanted to make before I return it to you guys is that, yes, this time the election was very fresh after 10 years of a military dominated parliament. The young voters came out a lot, but the overall picture last year was of a year with the highest voting turnout in Thai history since we became democracy.

Pita: In 90 years, since 1932, when we transformed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, last year was the year voter turnout came out the highest. Young voters are about 1 million per year, and with an election every four years that’s almost like four million new voters coming out every election cycle.

Pita: But also we won in all spectrums, not just among young voters, just to be clear. The provinces with the highest level of an aging society, we also won a landslide. And in 76 districts in Thailand, we either came number one or number two, not number three. So this is, I think, what I’m trying to say—that this is not about the age group.

Pita: And it’s not just about urban versus rural either, as per your question. And it’s not really, it’s not just progressives either, because if it’s progressives, then usually it’s just that 15 percent quintile on the very left, right? But this time, in order for you to win 40 percent of the votes, it’s the progressives, it’s also the center, it’s also the conservatives that felt like, dictatorship and “conservatism” are not the same.

Pita: And they felt like, [this party offers] the younger regime that might bring about the change that they have been desired for a very long time.

Pita: So [our coalition,] it’s the young and the old, and the urban and the rural, it’s the progressives and also the conservatives that have been fed up with the autocracy here in Thailand as well.

Pita: That’s why we got 40 percent. We can’t get 40 percent of the society just because we focus on the young, or we focus on the urban, or we focus on the progressives.

Evan: So, could I just ask, If the court bans move forward, what’s going to happen? Are people going to take to the streets or what’s the reaction going to be from your support base, and what’s your next move going to be?

Pita: If people want to control the agenda and take it to the street with a peaceful protest, that’s part of democracy. Organic gatherings, you know, by peaceful means. But systematically, to pit people against people, dividing people into different colors for your political advantage, that I’m not going to be part of. And I don’t think that’s democracy.

Evan: Stay with us. We’ll be back in a moment with more as we talk with Pita about what works and what doesn’t in political campaigns, tactics and techniques that you can use in your campaign too, and the good and bad of social media.

Alena: I saw that you mobilized so many young people and I was so happy because it’s so, so hard to make them believe that they can vote and win, especially in our countries. It’s so in countries with, like, semi-crazy regimes.

Alena: What tactics and techniques did you use just to tell them that “you should participate,” that you should be a part of that process? What was it?

Pita: For the young voters, or how we segment voters? Of course we definitely have different policies and different platforms for our targeted voters from our targeted audience. But in each district, I have a framework that I’m going to tell you—for the first time to any international media. I’ve never told anybody this.

Pita: I have a four Cs framework.

Pita: First is the candidate.

Pita: Number two is the competitor.

Pita: Number three is count.

Pita: And number four is constituencies.

Pita: Let me explain to you one by one. The candidate: obviously we have to look at each district, and we have to find the candidate that is strong and capable and rings a bell with that constituency.

Pita: If it’s an urban area, of course you want to find someone who synchronizes or who jibes with the borders of the urban areas. If it’s rural, then you need a different character in the candidate. But all of them have to have ideologies, and the question I ask each of the candidates when they apply to my party—which is a very young party by the way, three years only, they could have chosen a different political parties in different spectrums with more history, I’m a very rookie leader, a rookie party … But then when they come to me, I ask them three questions.

Pita: “So, why politics?” [Long pause] And then I wait for their answer in this awkward silence a little bit, and then I ask them, “so why this party? Why our party and not any other parties? They’re better equipped, [than we are] they have more resources than my party. I have very little money because campaign finance is really important to my party that I don’t take money from lobbyists or corporates, because I want to have autonomy when I speak politics.

Pita: So “why my party?” So another awkward silence.

Pita: And then the third question is, “why now?” “Why now?” I understand now why you want to run for office. I understand now why you want to choose our party and not any other parties. But why this election and not next election or the one before?

Pita: Then finally we find that strong candidate that we want to have in each district. It’s hyperlocal, hyperlocal based on each district.

Pita: Number two is on the competitor. So, if the competitor is a veteran politician, maybe in their 70s or in their 80s—they’ve been around for five election cycles but never get things done, cannot deliver—people are asking about land justice or land rights in a very rural part of Thailand.

Pita: They’re asking for healthcare, in Phuket or in Chiang Mai where tourists get top-notch healthcare but the locals get very poor healthcare access, and education is bad. So those are weak competitors. That’s number two, yeah?

Pita: Number three is count. So we look back five election cycles. Very detailed, big data. Like data analysis of each polling station in each district, and see which one is yellow, which one is green, and which one is red. If it’s red, then it’s very hard to crack. If it’s green, then they see me for one time, they’ll vote for me because, they’re very liberal. But if it’s the yellow area, that is like swing votes, you’ve got to show up three times and convince them that we are the right choice.

Pita: So when we look at all these numbers, we know exactly what position politics should be.

Pita: And the fourth C is constituencies. So I know exactly in which district where is the oldest city in Thailand, and where is the youngest city in Thailand. The youngest city in Thailand being in the deep south, on the border of Malaysia, 50 percent of those on the borders are younger than me.

Pita: So because of that, if you have these data, accurate data on candidate, competitor, count, and constituencies, you can put them in a filter. And I know exactly which district I should prioritize, where the quick wins are.

Pita: And then I strategize my campaign according to that.

Pita: So that’s why, when people were surprised—I remember, I think it was Bloomberg and CNN saying that “a surprise victory” of the reformers in Thailand, or something like that—to me, I aimed for 160 and I got 151. So I missed by just nine districts because of this simple framework that allows me to prioritize, to allocate my resources.

Pita: And also to customize my message to different voters. And for the new voters, especially, I know where they are, especially in the down south area.

Pita: They’re about decentralization, they’re about education, they’re about E-sports, they’re about the creative economy, they’re about having jobs within their area so that they don’t have to go to the capital city, or they don’t have to move to Singapore, or they don’t have to move to Malaysia for decent jobs.

Pita: They want to be able to take care of their elderly or their parents and their family without moving around. So I know what keeps them awake at night. I know what keeps them awake at night. And then I have policies that respond to that.

Pita: So, from the macro level to very micro level of each campaign rally, where I get up and say, “What’s up, Phuket? It’s good to be back. How are you all doing?” and then I deliver that message because I know, these are the young crowds and, they want to be able to have competitive industries within Phuket itself and things like that.

Pita: So I know exactly how to do that. To make their heart beat “boom, boom” without buying votes, without using a lot of money.

Pita: It’s about strategizing and things like that. And then I’m going to end this part of the [discussion] by saying, it’s not about social media. My competitors, or Gen X baby boomer politicians will tell you if they appear on your podcast, they’ll say, “Pita, and the Move Forward Party won because they are very good at TikTok or Instagram or Twitter or X,” things like that.

Pita: Before we think about what to put on social media, which is the tip of the iceberg behind the scenes of planning all this analysis, strategic appearances, strategic endorsements from someone—which is basic to how to run for public office anywhere in the world, the planning behind it, the data that was run, the data analysis that we had to do and choosing the right place to appear and, which to speak and things like that—it’s a lot of work behind it. It’s a lot of work behind it.

Pita: Just because you put something on TikTok, like you dancing and things like that, and then you can get votes, I think that’s illusion. It’s a lot of work behind it. But social media is just a way of delivering the message. There’s on air, there’s on Internet, there’s on site, and there’s various ways of communicating, and social media is just one of them.

Alena: But can I ask a question about social media? Because you said that social media is not everything, and for sure it’s not everything. I know it myself. But let’s just say that in my campaign—my last campaign was in 2021—our authorities blocked all my options to fundraise anywhere else except my Instagram.

Alena: And I used my Instagram very effectively. I fundraised from it. It’s not a huge fund, but, like, a reasonable amount of money for me to run for office and to support my campaign.

Alena: So can you tell us more about social media and the unconventional ways you use your social media? Maybe some tricks, maybe some advice that people all over the world can use for their campaign?

Pita: Well, it’s about campaign finance law. I could be a lot more creative, but in Thailand, the campaign finance law is that you cannot do merchandising and you cannot do fundraising like you did. So even if I have more than 10 million followers on each platform combined, from, TikTok to LinkedIn, I cannot leverage it to give me financial autonomy in my campaign finance.

Pita: We are trying to update that law, to be able to do some merchandising or some campaign financing, but the way I did it is a very traditional way of thinking about media.

Pita: How do you strategize, or how do you synergize between old media and new media? I’m appearing somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, and I’ll use social media for the pre-appearance. Because some traditional media might not come because it’s so far. I’ll use TikTok live, I’ll use Instagram live, I’ll use Facebook live to leverage my own network, which is equivalent to the old media.

Pita: I have 10 million followers combined. Thai people are 60 million, so I have one-sixth, approximately, although not 100%.

Pita: And then after I finish my message, then I would do a post event or a post appearance that summarizes all the key points that I have made to the people—to the indigenous people, for example.

Pita: This is true, that example. Because that’s the kind of event where I cannot rely on the old media to communicate.

Pita: So pre-event, during event, and post event is the way you think about it. Just like about communication management, and then probably the traditional media like television, cable TV, the newspapers will pick it up from the summary that I had summarized for them on my Facebook, and then there’s virality or the dynamics of old media and new media getting together or become something that is quite large rather than focusing on the new media or, just to “like” without notifying the audiences that you will be here, or you will be there or you appear this and that.

Pita: That kind of thing is linkage between above the line and below the line. That’s very Marketing 101 or Communication 101, right?

Pita: But we have to be able to use all these in the right balance, not just the bottom line where you have people hanging flyers or having brochures, but you also have that above the line as well. And you have to find that kind of balance for each district.

Pita: And that’s when I, that’s how I use social media with the limited legal space for me to do it.

Pita: But if it’s bigger, I have quite a number of creative things to do, like polling from it, or campaign finance for it, or, something like gaining a lot more data for artificial intelligence and politics and things like that. It would be fantastic if the legal space allows.

EvanPita, you were in business, right? Before you went into politics. So I’m just curious if the candidates you recruited were first timers in politics like you.

Pita: So to answer your question precisely, 90 percent, 95 percent of our candidates are brand new. I mean, it could be seen as a weakness, but it could be seen as a strength also, especially when people are really fed up with politicians.

Pita: So, we bring in commoners, we’re all “AOCs,” New York’s AOC style. They could be a bartender, they could be, a salesman, they could be a teacher, and things like that. But they have passion, and they know why they run for office, because I asked them, each one of them, in a grilling interview session.

Pita: The way we found our pipeline of talent is by being on the ground. So we have our party structure that has nothing to do with the member of parliament. Party structure that is hyperlocal in each of the small towns and the areas in the district. Scouting for candidates: If it’s a rural area, usually it’s the people who fight for indigenous rights, or people who fight for land rights, because another commonality between my country and Alena’s country is our inequality. If you look at a Credit Suisse First Boston report, I think Alena’s country [Russia] is number one, India is number two, and Thailand is number three, for example. So land inequality is usually something that, if you point a finger on a map, It will hit them. So these people might be an activist.

Pita: It could be a teacher. It could be a nurse that is fighting with inequality of access, or for public service in some way or form.

Pita: And they would come bottom up from the local areas to the headquarters of the party where we have a committee to decide. It could be from me meeting someone interesting. And I said, “okay, I cannot guarantee that you’ll be a candidate, but you’re going to go in the same talent pool as anybody else.”

Pita: And you’d get a lot of grilling interviews and internships before you can become the candidate. Or it could be online. Sometimes we put it up on our Facebook and social media. We need a candidate for province X. Then you can come in. So that’s at the minimum three channels of how you can become a candidate.

Pita: So we have a large pool where there’s a lot of competition and competition, if it’s healthy, breeds efficiency, so that we have the best talent for each of the people that would represent the district. And we can differentiate between the incumbent, which is to say the competitor, and then we would really synchronize or ring a bell with the constituency that we finally can leverage the previous count that we have been, increasing in that district

Alena: We’ll be back shortly with more from our conversation with Pita. We’ll discuss how he got interested in politics, his mentors, his education, and his return to Thailand from overseas. We’ll also talk about his surprising connection to one of my role models, former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Evan: Hey Pita, talk a little bit about how you got into politics in the first place, because, you know, you have such an interesting background. If I’m not mistaken, you grew up not even in Thailand, right? You grew up in New Zealand?

Pita: I grew up in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Pita: I was born in Bangkok and I moved to Hamilton, New Zealand in my teenage years. Back in, we’re talking about 1992, 1993, 1994, at that time, obviously no social media, no Internet. And I stayed with a homestay family in agriculture. And my homestay mother would spend a lot of time in front of the TV.

Pita: Back at the time Down Under, they had three channels. So one channel would be rugby or cricket. One channel would be Australian soap operas, like “Home and Away,” just in case we have any listeners from Down Under. And the third would be parliamentarians, a session where you would see Prime Minister Jim Bolger, that was the name of the former Prime Minister of New Zealand back in the days.

Pita: So I would sit eating my instant noodles to remind me of home, while my homestay mother would do her ironing all the time.

Pita: So that’s when I started becoming hooked to the world of politics. And later on, I returned to Thailand, and the tsunami hit Thailand, and then I started to move from business side.

Pita: I was working for a management consulting company, where I get my framework thinking from, called the Boston Consulting Group. And then I started to feel like, the private sector is about just maximizing shareholders profits. But if it’s about national tourism or national energy security, it’s a balance between maximizing profit as well as public service.

Pita: And then I started to get into the government [wheel]house. And then I went to Harvard for public policy school.

Pita: So it’s been 20 years in the making.

Pita: And why politics for me is because I think that the country can—I’ve seen either country is prospering—and then I feel like Thailand has so much to offer.

Pita: It’s about governance, it’s about management. And I’ve seen other politicians, other prime ministers during their time. And I felt like when my time comes, I can do it, or I can do it better.

Pita: So I feel like the country can do better, and I can do better. It’s been 20 years in the making, and I started learning about the world of politics 30 years ago. So it’s been, it’s been a long time coming for me.

Evan: Did you take tactics or techniques that were used in the United States or in Europe or in South Korea or in Taiwan, for that matter—did you bring any of that back to Thailand in the way that you ran the campaign? The way you connected with voters? The way you used technology?

Pita: Well, inside and outside of the classroom. Inside the classroom, I took a class for a short time called “How to Run for Public Office” by Steve Jarding.

Pita: Professor Steve Jarding. I think he helped out with the Clinton campaign a long time ago. And that gives me the structure for how I think about campaign management and how to become a public officer.

Pita: Outside of the classroom, it’s quite a coincidence that, I think it was in year 1999 or 2000, and I was in Austin, Texas as an exchange student at UT Austin. Longhorns, baby.

Evan: Hook ‘em!

Pita: And that was Al Gore versus Bush at the time. The Florida recount with George Bush at the time. So, I was I was interested in politics from being a UT Austin exchange scholar.

Pita: I walked around the streets and then people would be in our dorm watching television of what’s going on, or presidential debates and stuff.

Pita: And then I went to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2006. If I’m not mistaken, that was Obama against McCain. And this time I was in a public policy school, the JFK School of Government at Harvard. So my problem sets teammate was Cody Keenan. And Cody Keenan became the first speechwriter for President Obama. You have to fact check me if I’m correct, but I feel like that’s right. He was working for Ted Kennedy before joining our class, and then he graduated, and then he went to work as a speechwriter, if I’m not mistaken. But that just gives the audience the [sense of the] kind of, indirect, outside of the classroom [interest in] political campaigning.

Pita: And I followed all my friends when there was a rally in downtown Boston, when Obama came. Then I would follow along and then see how they do it. What phone banks are for, why they have to volunteer, why they put the flags in front of their courtyards.

Pita: So a lot of things, those things are applied. So if you have a noodle shop here, in the middle of Bangkok and iif you want a sign, you can call us. We’ll put a sign up for you. So we don’t have to spend money on advertising.

Pita: But it’s volunteering for you guys in America—it’s a flag on your lawn—but for us it’s a banner on the noodle shop in Bangkok, for example.

Pita: So, yes, I mean, directly and indirectly it’s influenced by various countries because of COVID 19.

Pita: And in both Austin, Texas and Cambridge, Massachusetts, a college town where it’s not just Americanized. I mean, my roommates were Uruguayan and South African and a lot of Germans and some from Rwanda, so it was a very international class. That is, not just an Americanized way of running things, but a global way of running things.

Pita: And I took it to a [different] context. To put it in local context in Thailand because you have to be very hyper local when you run for public office,

Alena: You said if anything bad happens, the party will survive without your leadership. Is it really possible? Because in my country, the authorities usually use this tactic. They destroy your leadership. And after that, all your followers, they don’t believe in the victory because they think, okay, they just politically killed our leader and that’s why we can’t do anything.

Pita: Yes. I’ve been following the news. For us as an answer to your question, we have to put it in a time perspective, short term and long term.

Pita: We will definitely have a short-term hiccup from a leadership transition, and there’ll be a lot of administrative work.

Pita:  Setting up a political party is never easy. You have bureaucracy, and you’ve got to have some resources to set up different branches in the country. You can probably resonate with that, with this, regardless of which country you’re from. But in the long term, I feel like it could turbo charge our costs.

Pita: I mean, we still have a lot of time left. I’m 43 this year. If I’m banned for 10 years, I’ll return when I’m 53. I think I’ll still have that capability or that readiness or that willingness and that ability to return and become a wiser politician when the time comes.

Pita: And I will prove this with realistic evidence: So four years ago, we got 80 MPs out of 500. They destroyed us in the hope that without our first charismatic leader, I would not be able to succeed. And in the short term, I, my polls, started off from 3%. So to them, to the establishment, they probably felt like they have succeeded because you destroy a political party, you have destroyed the soul of that movement.

Pita: But guess what? People are so fed up, and people who are hungry for change are willing to step up to the version 2.0, the designated survivor like me. And now my poll is 50%. From 3 to 50 percent within 3 or 4 years.

Pita: I’m not perfect, and it’s not just about me, but it’s just that I represent the thinking or the idea, of equality, of freedom, of fraternity.

Pita: A fraternity of people getting together and finally, getting out of this nonsense and dealing with the real issues. Dealing with the real issues of geopolitics, where the deal, the real deal of the issue is when it comes to an aging society, climate change, cyber security, all these things are new.

Pita: And all the politicians are fighting against one another. So we don’t have that kind of focus. And now, in the election last year, I told you it’s 150. So if you do the math, From the first party to the second party within our movement, [80 to 150, that’s 2x.

Alena: Yeah, right.

Pita: Of a start of 2x.

Pita: Yeah, right, right,

Alena: 2x.

Pita: So, if you destroy us one more time, yes, one of the scenarios is that you stop the movement, you get rid of me, and then the new upcoming party leader, which we don’t know who yet might be able to do the job as well as the previous two leaders, there’s also a big probability, a big chance that there’s an external effect that turbocharges the movement regardless of who leads.

Pita: Because we have been trying to frame this political project as substance more than form. So it’s not about a name, it’s not the logo, it’s not the color, it’s not the face of the party. Someone will be able to do the job as good as me or better than me.

Evan: Can I just ask you, what do you say to people when they tell you they feel despair about the political future? The reason I’m asking you that is, you may remember I was at an event with you and you made a similar comment to the one that you just made. You said, “well, I have time,” which you do because you’re young and you’re dynamic. But I remember somebody in the audience said something like, “well, you have time, but Thailand doesn’t have time because of what’s happened in the country. And we don’t have time anymore. That’s what we’re losing.”

Evan: So what do you say to people when they express that sense of despair to you? How do you buck them up?

Pita: What other choice do you have?

Pita: When they come to me, this is real. Your question is totally solid. It’s on fire.

Pita: So when I go down on the streets of Bangkok and people come out to me, crying, hugging me and say, we are in despair, there’s no other means to do it.

Pita: But then I ask them back, “I acknowledge your despair but what other choice do we have?” If we’re in despair, they would, right away lose hope. And if you lose interest in politics, that’s when they go through the corruption process. That’s when they pass laws. That’s to their advantage but to your disadvantage.

Pita: So what other choice do we have except to be hopeful and carry on? And finally, we can be South Korea. It’s a country that I keep telling people about as a concrete example of a society that finally escaped four cycles of military coups and military leaders back in 1993, and finally became a high tech, high touch country.

Pita: Back in 1950, we were at the same level of GDP per capita. And then we were going through cycles after the Cold War of military coups and military dictatorships. Finally, the people of South Korea didn’t give up and finally took off. And we’re where we are right now.

Pita: The time is on our side, but they have everything. The establishment have the military power, the judicial power, the money power from the monopolies.

Pita: But the same as people in South Korea that went through the same thing, it’s just a matter of a peaceful means of continuing, of winning more elections, dominating the ideas of “this is not okay what is going on.”

Pita: And make sure that we are smart enough not to let them divide and conquer us because they usually break people into groups, and don’t let them let pit people against people in fighting one another.

Pita: So, it’s not just about the beating elections and the next time, which we will. Another thing is dominating the idea that Thailand is hopeful and has a lot to offer.

Pita: To each of us living in this country, as well as to international community where we can contribute a lot as well.

Pita: So no, no other choices. If we give up, they win. That’s exactly what they’re trying to do. They’ve been doing this, but the cost of doing it for them is pretty high also. It’s not like they don’t have any cost of throwing another coup or disbanding another party.

Pita: It’s quite a hefty price that they have to pay. But they will eventually win when people give up, when people are fed up, when people are migrating out of the country because, there’s no hope in this country. And that’s when they feel like, “Oh, easy peasy. I’ll be able to monopolize everything in this country.”

Alena: Do you have any role models famous politicians ?

Pita: Jacinda Ardern.

Alena: Oh, okay!

Evan: Did you go to school with her? I read somewhere that you guys were at school.

Pita: We’re both 1980. Jacinda Ardern was born in Hamilton, New Zealand. I went to school when I was 12 or 13 or 14 in Hamilton, New Zealand. She graduated from a university called Waikato University.

Pita: And my high school is next to Waikato University, but we never met until last year where now she’s a fellow at Harvard. And then I went back to America to have a tour in New York and DC, where I met you, when we went to the Carnegie Endowment, and then I went to Boston. And then I met with Kevin Rudd too, athe former Prime Minister of Australia, and I met Jacinda, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Pita: So we got to talk a lot, and I followed her because, I grew up there. I’m a Kiwi myself. How she handled the Christchurch massacre, how she handled COVID, how she’s my age, and she also has kids like myself, being a parent and being a Prime Minister at the same time is not easy. So I felt like that’s something to really appreciate and look up to, and something I can relate to.

Alena: Thank you so much for your time.

Evan: Thanks for the time.

Evan: That was great. I mean just such an interesting conversation. And I’ve got to say, the timing could not have been more poignant because we’re in a week where the Move Forward Party may be dissolved, and, as we discussed at the beginning, Pita himself may face a ban from politics.

Evan: But you know what really struck me was, he said that despite all that, the trials, the tribulations, the obstacles, the difficulties, he never gives up hope. And he feels like time is on his side. He seems to have this notion that, no matter what, he’s going to be Prime Minister of Thailand someday. And it’s that kind of sense of destiny that I think inspires a lot of people, and surely must inspire a lot of people around the world too.

Evan: I mean, you must face that every day in terms of how you think of the direction of your own country.

Alena: Yeah, right, right. You know, he’s inspired me so much. You know, every morning is dark times now. And when I wake up every morning, I think, “will it be better in the near future?” “What can we do to fight back?” against all these dictatorships all over the world.

Alena: Especially young people, and the generation like me. So he’s the same age as me. And he said, “I’m not going to give up until I’ll be, like, 55,” and I thought, “Okay, I shouldn’t too! I will be 55 and I can be the prime minister of my own country,” the best Russia, the better Russia.

Alena: And I really want to see the better Russia. And I want to inspire people all over the world, especially young people, to participate in politics—because “it’s possible!”

Evan: So it resonates with you. It resonates with me. And I know I hope it resonates with people all around the world too.

Alena: If you enjoyed this episode, there is more Politics Possible to come. Check us out at politicspossible.com, listen on the major podcast platforms, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Evan: Tune in soon for episodes on everything from Taiwan’s young techies, to deepfakes and crypto, rock music and politics, and how students around the world are fighting against dictatorships.

Subscribe to the WWSG newsletter.

Check Availability

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

0
Speaker List
Share My List