A group of Thai students are boycotting a visit by Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana to Oxford this week in protest against a controversial bill proposed by the Thai government.
The Amnesty Bill is a heated piece of legislation that has provoked unrest, government debate, and street protests in Thailand for many months. The bill proposes to offer amnesty for acts of violent unrest carried out between 2004 and August of this year. This would apply to several disgraced political figures close to the current government, most notably the older brother of Yingluck Shinawatra, the current Prime Minister.
Deputy Prime Minister Thepkanjana, who has supported the Amnesty Bill despite fierce public opposition in Thailand, is set to meet Thai scholarship recipients at an informal lunch meeting on Saturday, 30 November.
However, a group of Thai students led by Thaya Uthayophas and Duangnapa Kovanich have raised objections to the terms of the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit. In an open letter to Thepkanja, they strongly condemned his government’s policies and declined his invitation to take part in the event.
“Contrary to the government’s tactics, we believe that a true democracy is not the same as majoritarianism, that the voice of the minority, political decency, and the rule of law must be upheld,” the letter reads. “Therefore, we, the Thai students at Oxford University who oppose the Amnesty Bill, do not wish to have any involvement with your coming visit to Oxford.”
Thaya Uthayophas, a third year PPEist visiting Pembroke from Brown University, is one of the leading signatures of the open letter to Thepkanjana. He is optimistic about the political dialogue created by the protest in Oxford and elsewhere: “We believe our letter has been well received by the majority of Thai students at the University of Oxford and also some other members of the Thai community in Oxford and the UK,” Uthayophas told Cherwell.
“We hope that our boycott will prompt Thai students, both in Thailand and overseas, to be inspired to voice their opinions and engage in the greater political dialogue of the country.”
Thai students supporting the boycott have chosen not to protest the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit
for the sake of the Oxford Thai Society, which has no official political affiliations and does not represent Uthayophas and Kovanich’s group.
A first year MBA student at St Hugh’s expressed mixed opinions the visit, commenting, “I personally welcome the man because I heard, from a reliable source, that he was fair and actually not a corrupt politician.
“But we cannot welcome the Deputy PM who tries to pass that Amnesty Bill that would destroy the rule of law in our country.”
Uthayophas expressed his disappointment that the Thai Office of Educational Affairs, which organised the Oxford lunch, did not specify that the Deputy Prime Minister would be attending.
“We believe that their omission, given the current political situation in Thailand, has led some students to make uninformed decisions,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Thepkanjana has not yet responded to the Oxford students’ open letter, nor was he available for comment.