Kraisak Choonhavan passed away on June 11 after a long fight with cancer. He was 72.
From the mid-1970s, Kraisak had a relationship with the Journal of Contemporary Asia, as an author, using a pseudonym, including on the special issue on Thailand in 1978 that responded to the events of 1976.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Kraisak was a special friend to the journal and especially to then editor Peter Limqueco and future editor Kevin Hewison. His support for the journal went beyond comradeship, even providing the journal with a Bangkok home in some of those years. Dinners at his home in the family compound on Soi Rajakhru saw all kinds of Thai and foreign leftists collected for conversation. The military and police guards along the street seemed to get used to such events and to the later establishment of NGO shopfronts in some of the compound’s buildings.
In those days, in a haze of cigarette smoke, there were inevitably disagreements about politics, strategy and events, but always lubricated by beer and whisky and accompanied by basic and delicious Thai dishes.
Kraisak’s engagement with the institutions of Thailand’s politics deepened after he served as one of the Ban Pitsanulok advisers during his father’s term as prime minister. When Chatichai’s government was thrown out in the 1991 coup, Kraisak fled the country.
He returned and reignited his political career, becoming an elected senator in 2000. In this position he often clashed with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on free trade, investment, the murderous war on drugs, transparency and more.
These clashes became highly personalised and Kraisak came to abhor Thaksin, feeling he had derailed parliamentary democracy. This inevitably led to support for the People’s Alliance for Democracy. When that movement became deeply royalist, rightist and called on the military to seize the state, Kraisak stayed with it, adopting political positions that aligned with royalists and promoted their cause.
While this position put him at odds with the journal’s editors, his appreciation of the journal’s articles on Thailand, environment and people’s movements and his hospitality were undiminished. His commitment to the arts, environment and minorities continued until his passing.
He will be greatly missed.