For this week’s Big Interview, we caught up with anti-government activist and political figure, Thanat “Luknut” Thanakitamnuay. He’s a former supporter of the country’s powerful establishment. But now, he’s had a complete transformation.
We talked about how the current government’s system is broken, his unexpected rise to prominence in the protest movement, his unlikely transformation, and what’s next for him politically.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
CQ: So it’s been around six years since that VICE documentary, Driving Ferraris with the Thai Royalists, depicted you as this spoiled rich kid. How do you think back on those days? (ON VICE DOC)
Luknat: I mean many people were offended. So I guess they accomplished what they set out to do. And look I’m a fan of VICE, so I knew how it was going to turn out.
So I didn’t have any allusions. Many people are under the impression that all press interviews are supposed to make them look good. But the media is supposed to reflect the truth and not make a certain character look better than they actually are. So it’s interesting to see how I’m being perceived.
If I looked bad, if I looked shitty, it’s probably because I was pretty shitty as it turns out.
So it makes perfect sense, and especially now that I’m trying to make amends and reconcile with those who’ve I’ve offended all my life or at least as long as I’ve been in politics.
It’s sort of the benchmark or the evidence of how badly informed I was and what I have to do to make up for all the mistakes that were made.
CQ: You say you’re ‘making amends’. Is that how you view your new trajectory? (ON MAKING AMENDS)
Luknat: Personally, I want to make a career out of being a politician, but not just any kind of politician, I want to do the right thing. Just making MP is not enough for me, you have to fight for a real cause and make real changes that help real people.
It’s always been an important part of any movement that you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
Every movement says they promote democracy, but not every movement ends up with democracy. Especially the PDRC, I mean, even North Korea says they are democratic republic. So we want democracy that serves the people.
CQ: How do you view the institution in contemporary Thailand? Do you agree that reform is needed?
Luknat: In Thailand, we were led to believe that [the institution] is there to serve the people. But in this day and age, some people are not so sure.
I think [that it does] serve the people, but some people are not sure if their sole existence is to serve the people.
It makes us question things, but in this country you can’t really question things when it comes to the [royal institution]. But we’re more open to doing that now than ever because everyone is now doing it.
But there are many people, especially those connected to the military, that try to associate themselves with [the top]. They try to say that they are the side that protects the monarchy, therefore we could not have questions against them too. Which is ridiculous. In another way they are trying to make themselves closer or try to be equal, which is again very ridiculous.
That’s why I think a lot of people started questioning [things], because you have those with political motives and those with financial agendas.
So when people are angry, they blame the very tip.
CQ: So how exactly did you get involved in the democracy movement? I’m really curious about this transformation? What happened? (ON HIS TRANSFORMATION)
Luknat: I’ve literally offended everybody, I’ve offended everybody who saw the truth before I did.
So I was laying low for a while, and trying to make myself forgotten by everybody. But it gets to the point where life becomes passionless and is not really worth living. You go to work, you make money, you spend money and that was it. It was not something I really set out to do.
So yeah I mean I have friends who know me well who knew that I wanted to reenter politics with the vision of changing things for the better. So they helped me get there.
CQ: I think once you lost your eye some people saw that as a turning point. I think some people thought you might disappear again, but you didn’t. ON HIS EYE/ BLINDNESS
Luknat: I feel that they’ve given me too much credit for that. Because I didn’t run into the line of fire to protect someone, it was literally an accident. It was no way a sacrifice of any form. But after it happened, I was literally in an ambulance and it was me and my thoughts and I was thinking, ‘Well. I’m definitely blind in one eye.’
I mean it wasn’t surprising, there was a lot of blood, it was painful.
CQ: So what’s next for you?
Luknat: I’d like to think that we are part of the movement that is controlling the tides.
We want to make a change and I think this is important. But as far as the movement goes, we can’t just denounce the authorities saying they are abusing the system, or that they rip the constitution apart, and then protest alone.
With this approach we’re not really going to accomplish what we set out to do, it has to be done within the system. Even though the system cheated us, even if the system is corrupt, even if the elections are a total fraud. We still have to win against being cheated. And I think it’s important that the entire movement gears up to promote righteous democracy and promote policy that people want.
So protest movements like these get people thinking before political campaigns start.
It’s the perfect stage to get people talking about politics, to really start thinking about what they want and what they need out of their politicians. Ultimately, the people are going to vote for the kind of government that they want.