Taxi driver 'sacrificed himself for democracy'
Family calls him hero; Nuamthong 'couldn't live with martial law'
Despite wide public speculation about the motive behind Nuam-thong Phaiwan's decision to take his own life in the early hours of yesterday, his family and democracy fighters declared the 60-year-old taxi-driver had died a heroic death.
His grieving wife, Boonchu, appeared to still be in shock and could only mutter a few words after learning about his dramatic death from their neighbours, but managed to announce she is proud of her husband.
"I couldn't be more sad losing the love of my life and the leader of my family. I didn't think he would be this brave, but I'm very proud of him for sacrificing for the country," Boonchu, 51, told reporters.
In fact, Nuamthong survived his first attempt to sacrifice his life for democracy on September 30 when he spray-painted his purple taxi with the words "[coup] destroys the country" and "suicide" before slamming his vehicle into a tank at the Royal Plaza in central Bangkok.
On October 14, just two days after he was dismissed from hospital where he was treated for injuries he received in the crash, he attended the commemoration of the 33rd anniversary of the people's victory in fighting for democracy. Nuamthong told an iTV reporter on that day that he did not want to live under the dictatorial regime any more.
iTV did not release the interview with Nuamthong until after his death yesterday because of martial law. However, the broadcast of the tape was brought to an abrupt end because of a reported phone call from the director of Channel 5, which is owned by the military.
Instead, journalist Jom Petchpradap of iTV said on a late night programme that Nuam-thong called him on Tuesday night asking him to keep the interview tape because the late taxi-driver was preparing to "do something".
Nuamthong had planned a meaningful death by choosing to kill himself during the month of October, which symbolises the Kingdom's two most important pro-democracy uprisings. But he changed his mind about hanging himself in front of the October 14, 1973 Memorial because the place was crowded and he was afraid of intervention.
Nuamthong, however has missed a special day that any proud parent would look forward to: his daughter Sawida, 23, was to have her graduation ceremony on Sunday.
In his farewell letter to the nation, in which the last paragraph addressed his family, Nuamthong asked his wife and children to be proud of him.
"My father told us that the coup d'etat was wrong. He was always true to his ideology and honoured the truth. He said we should be proud of what he did because it's the right thing [to fight dictatorship]," Sawida said.
She said when Nuamthong left his house at noon on Tuesday, he showed no sign that he would not be returning home. But his farewell letter found on his body said he was prepared to die for democracy.
"My father did not take any side in politics, and he had never been an admirer of Thaksin," Sawida said. "He had never been bought by politicians. But he was alert to news and read a lot of books, especially on health issues."
Being aware that his suicide might be seen as the act of a nut-case, Nuamthong wrote in his farewell letter that he did not have any psychological illness or stress.
"My act is to protest against dictatorship ... and let me tell you again that both incidents [the tank crash and the suicide] are calls from my heart. Nobody paid me to do so."
Nuamthong is regarded as the country's highest profile political suicide for years. In 1990, student activist Thanawuth Klingchua immolated for democracy and conservationist Seub Nakasathien took his own life to demand policymakers and the public take forest conservation seriously.