Opinion: Future Forward Now a Bigger Political Target

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Future Forward Party leader, takes a selfie with supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday in Bangkok’s Siam Square.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Future Forward Party leader, takes a selfie with supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday in Bangkok’s Siam Square.

Re•tention: Pravit Rojanaphruk

The dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart Party on Thursday for having nominated Princess Ubolratana as a candidate for prime minister – dragging the royal institution into politics – has left many supporters wondering which party they should they vote for in two weeks time.

With its “sister” Pheu Thai Party not filling all constituencies with candidates in what was perceived as a move to leave a space for Thai Raksa Chart to compete with other parties, the situation has become complicated in the aftermath of the verdict.

For example, Pheu Thai only has candidates competing in 22 out of 30 constituencies in Bangkok and only 250 out of 350 nationwide constituency seats. This move, which has now backfired, was meant to not compete with the now-dissolved pro-Thaksin Thai Raksa Chart Party. Both parties have denied colluding in an unspoken alliance but many, including this writer, are convinced otherwise.

The newly-formed Future Forward Party meanwhile, with its strong anti-junta policies – such as drafting a new charter to replace the current junta-sponsored constitution, or cutting down military budget – looks likely to become the major beneficiary, as it has candidates filled in all districts nationwide.

Future Forward, led by billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has become a major threat to the pro-junta pro-monarchy camp.

Thanathorn – a former board member of Matichon Group, the parent company of Khaosod English – has been accused of being an anti-monarchist due to his support and association with Same Sky Books, a radical left-wing publication obsessed with critical issues about the monarchy, however.

The magazine was formed two decades ago by Thanathorn’s Thammasat University friends, who are now assisting the party’s campaign.

Although Future Forward  made a strategic decision not to have any policy on the controversial and draconian lese majeste law – no matter what the party insists – ultra-royalist voters will definitely not vote for them due to its perceived critical stance on the institution.

The party is perhaps aiming at a different sector of voters anyhow. Young first-timers are a new block of voters that the party is trying hard to attract, and it has become successful in getting the attention of the near seven-million new voters.

Twitter hashtags involving Thanathorn have dominated Thailand’s Twitterdom for weeks and the @Thanathorn_FWP Twitter account has 200,000 followers.

Two months ago, Thanathorn had fewer than 40,000 followers on Twitter, but it’s yet to be seen if his astronomical rise on Twitter and social media in general will translate into votes come March 24.

What’s more, Thanathorn faces possible indictment by the state prosecutors on March 26 – two days after the general elections – as he was accused of falsely claiming that the junta is poaching former MPs to increase the chance of junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s return as prime minister after the polls take place.

Also, for five months, the party’s website wrongly listed Thanathorn as president of the Federation of Thai Industries, while in fact he was only a provincial-level president. Now, the party – or at least the webmaster – is being accused of deceiving voters and violating the Computer Crimes Act.

Even one of the party’s deputies, Lt. Gen. Phongsakon Rotchomphu, recently came under fire after criticizing deputy junta leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan for spending 12,000 baht on a cup of coffee paid by taxpayers’ money – a claim made in a news article that was later proved to be false. He could be prosecuted for violating the Computer Crimes Act.

More attempted character assassination, be it against Thanathorn as an anti-monarchist or his university friend party secretary general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul – who until entering politics was a staunch opponents of the lese majeste law and an influential critic of the monarchy – will continue.

In the end, Future Forward – despite being a new political party composed almost exclusively of political greenhorns – will still benefit from the fact that this elections will be about a pro-versus-anti-junta showdown.

The pro-versus-anti-junta, pro-versus-anti-monarchy environments will likely push voters who couldn’t vote for Thai Raksa Chart to vote for Future Forward nonetheless, as switching camp between the two is simply inconceivable.