“I am just a teacher…an everyday person” is Kunthida Rungruengkiat’s mantra. It is the narrative that she and the Future Forward Party want the electorate to believe, that this schoolteacher, the party’s deputy leader, is just a simple person out to change the world.
But for those that know her, average and every day are not the right words to describe Kunthida. We managed to sit her down for our BIG Interview so we could find out her views and background.
On studying in and falling in love with Finland.
I am just a simple girl from Nonthaburi and went to school in Bangkok. You could say I was a typical Thai girl in every way until I got a chance to do my AFS [American Field Service] exchange in Finland.
My first week there, I had my teachers ask what it was I liked. That blew my mind.
Because you know, in Thailand, you’ve already got everything so patterned and everything’s already made for you, so you basically work according to what others have planned for you.
But it was the first time that I got to sit down with my teacher, and we planned things together. And it was a very difficult question because I had never been asked what I like.
On lecturing and dealing with school administration
I really enjoyed teaching the big general education classes where students from different majors would be in one class.
At Bangkok University, they expected me to give these multiple-choice examinations and it was something that I disagreed with. I fought with the administration for I don’t know how many years.
It started with, I don’t want to do multiple-choice, how about true or false instead. The administration said okay. What they didn’t know was my students had to give a reason why something was true or false. From there it became essays, and then project-based grading and eventually the administration relented and now my classes don’t have exams.
On questioning the status quo
I started going to schools in Isaan and you know, seeing what the conditions were like and what the education is like. I started to ask a lot of whys. Why the quality in education was so different between the provinces and in Bangkok, how do these conditions still exist.
There was never funding so I started a book borrowing program, a book buying program, things that should already be in place.
It felt wrong to me, kids should be able to go to the library and escape. I remember one episode very clearly in my mind, the Harry Potter collection at this one school was under lock and key because the book is so valuable so the kids shouldn’t read it.
I always had these questions but I didn’t connect the dots yet. But I think right after I came back from Finland, from my Master’s degree, then those political questions came because there had been so many things happening during my two years in Finland.
On Finnish and Thai politics
I remember when I went back to Finland for my masters, some friends I had from high school ran for local elections. It was great seeing them talk about policies and actually changing things in town. It made me think if they can campaign to change their own city then why can’t I do that? Why don’t I have a chance to make my voice be heard?
But at the time I didn’t see any political parties that I wanted to join.
On her political awakening
I think I only became politically active during the constitutional drafting committee. During the 2014 coup, I just thought “here we go again,” but that was where it ended.
But then I met Pai Daodin. He attended a mock-up class of mine. There was an event, I ran a class as a democratic forum and he joined. He was the most vocal in the class as you can imagine and kept asking question after question. After the class was over, he asked if I could help him run a camp.
I asked him what kind of camp?
He said that it was up to me but we could set it up in the provinces, in Loei, in other areas.
The camps weren’t political at first, they were just listening classes, teaching kids to be active listeners. But it was political in a way because it was happening while all the injustices were happening in the country.
So we set up a camp in Loei where these villagers were being affected by a goldmine, we slept there with them and listened to their stories and discussed issues that were important. So that was my first political step I guess.
On the constitutional drafting committee
During that time, I set up an initiative to have people read and understand what the constitution was about before they actually cast their votes. Everybody kept talking about yes or no, yes or no without understanding the clauses and what they were voting for so I thought it was really important for people to understand what it entailed.
On whether she’s against the military
I am against injustice and inequality, it’s not just the military you know, it’s the whole system, the establishment. I want a process where people get to decide things for themselves, and to me, that’s what is lacking in this society. We do not gather information and make decisions on our own.
Democracy doesn’t have to be about this whole grand system but its something that permeates everyday life. It’s a place where you can express yourself and choose what’s right for you and allows you access to information and allows you to express yourself.
On choosing to enter politics
For me, it was really easy because, at the end of the day, I didn’t want to regret standing by and doing nothing. This was my way of making a difference on a larger scale and I am still having fun. Future Forward gave me an avenue to use my ability to its fullest potential.
On any regrets with Future Forward’s policy so far
I am speaking for myself and not the party, but I think we did it on too large a scale too fast. We were in such a hurry looking for candidates and everything and I wish we could have had more time to screen the candidates. Get to really know them. I also wish we had time to build stronger provincial teams. I just wish the process was not as rushed.
With the candidates, we don’t really have time to interact with them because we only interviewed them for fifteen minutes at a time you didn’t really get to know them. They were screened by a committee then we interviewed them for fifteen minutes.
I wish, personally as a teacher, that we could’ve held camps and seminars and showed them what Future Forward was really about.
On the possibility of being banned
I am not surprised; I knew this day would come. We raised a lot of questions about the military, we raised questions about changing the whole structure of the society, and of course, there would be someone or some group of people who [would be] dissatisfied with that.
When I made the decision [to enter politics] I imagined the worst-case scenario and asked whether I could accept it or not. I knew I could because I didn’t want to regret not giving it a go.