Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit at an anti-government protest in Bangkok on Dec. 14, 2019.

Are we going forward or backward?

This question came to my mind after I witnessed Future Forward Party leaders mustering an anti-government “flash mob” large enough to unsettle naysayers who were confident that massive protests have been relegated to the past for good.

There is no independent estimate of the crowd size. My junior colleague and I put it at the low figure of 3,000 when we were reporting live from the scene, though other reports suggest the number might be as high as 5,000 or 10,000. But the main point is that once again the prospect of large street protests cannot be ruled out.

The protest, which lasted just two hours on Dec. 14, came after the Election Commission ruled that the party be dissolved because it accepted a loan worth 191 million baht from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, thus breaking voting law.

Supporters of Future Forward see the move as yet another round of political persecution against their party.

Personally, I think Thanathorn should have avoided loaning money to his own political party in the first place, because doing so put him in a position where other party leaders owed him a debt of gratitude, quite literally. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unlawful, and anyway that is not a topic of this article.

The topic is about the implications of the possible revival of street protests, particularly in the case that Future Forward Party is dissolved by the court next year.

Earlier this month I interviewed party deputy leader Chamnan Chanruang. When asked whether there would be a street protest if the party is dissolved, Chamnan said the party will not seek to organize one because it doesn’t want to be responsible for the “blood” that may incur if there are violent clashes or attacks against demonstrators like in the past.

Chamnan added that it’s another story if someone else leads it.

It’s understandable why Chamnan said what he said. For the past decade and a half, a total of over a hundred people from all political sides were attacked and killed in protests. We also saw opportunistic military coups citing the need to end street violence, or imminent street violence, as its pretext of seizing power.

But just a week after Chamnan expressed his worries, his party leader Thannathorn himself called for a protest. This came despite him and party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich having stated in the past that “street politics” is not the way of the party.

The party took an abrupt U-turn without ever fully explaining why it sees things differently. That’s a shame, as it means their principles could change depending on the changing circumstances.

Surely, it is undeniable that the right to peaceful political assembly is fundamental in any democratic society and ought to be defended.

But as Thanathorn promised an even larger crowd next month, the party faces a challenge how not to repeat the vicious cycle of protests, violent clashes, which could then lead to possible injuries and deaths, only to be followed by yet another military coup.

This requires strategic thinking and learning from the past.

Some people even say deaths cannot be avoided in order to bring about political change. I wish changes can be achieved peacefully, or at least with as little violence as possible.

This is a party calling itself Future Forward. It should live up to its name. We do not want a future trapped in the same vicious cycle that has brought so many losses to Thailand.