By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Six years after the coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, one name is slowly becoming venerated by those who opposed military intervention - the late taxi-driver Nuamthong Praiwan.
Nuamthong, 60, ran his cab into an Army tank in the aftermath of the September 19, 2006 coup. He was hospitalised and later publicly belittled by Col Akara Thiprote, deputy spokesperson of the Council for National Security (CNS), who said: “Nobody has so strong an ideology so as to be able to sacrifice his or her life”.
On October 30, 2006, Nuamthong died when he decided to hang himself as the ultimate protest against the coup.
Today, many red-shirts and those who oppose the coup view Nuamthong as a martyr.
A film in honour of the taxi-driver is soon to be filmed after red shirts managed to raise more than Bt2.5 million earlier this year.
When red shirts gathered at Ratchaprasong Intersection to rally in 2010, a bust of Nuamthong was placed near Buddha statues and those of warrior kings of the past, behind the main rally stage.
To red-shirt Chulalongkorn historian Assoc Prof Suthachai Yimprasert, Thai history will remember Nuamthong kindly – despite the fact that only red shirts and those who opposed the coup value his sacrifice.
“The future will be different [when it comes to remembering Nuamthong],” Suthachai said. “It’s impossible to see the coup as legitimate from the future’s point of view. We exist in the bias of the present. It’s like the October 6, 1976 massacre; no one today says the killing was right anymore.”
Suthachai said what made Nuamthong unique was the fact he was a working class man and not from the educated middle class.
Wat Wallayangkoon, writer and scriptwriter for the new film, believes Nuamthong has a place in the history of Thai democracy.
“The future will only remember him more,” said Wat, adding that when Thailand enjoys genuine freedom of speech, understanding of tumultuous events like the October 6, 1976 massacre of leftist students, or the October 14, 1973 revolt against military dictators, would also change.
Those not in the red-shirt camp who oppose military dictatorship, like Marxist activist Patchanee Kumnal, who is from a working class background herself, warned that the struggle for democracy should not be based on individual sacrifice but the strength of a democratic movement.
“From a Marxist perspective, we do not support the idea of martyrdom. Everyone should be organised and fight as a movement and not fight a lonely struggle like the taxi-driver,” said 35-year-old Patchanee. “I do respect his stance and fortitude, however. He deserves to be recorded in history.”