Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit at the Chulalongkorn-Thammasat football match on Saturday.

BANGKOK — In the lead-up to the first election since social media fully bloomed in the country, every major party is competing for attention on the volatile Thai internet.

But it appears one party has inadvertently found itself at the center of a peculiar trend. #SkyLovesDaddy, a hashtag of affection for Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has been trending for days and spawning endless internet jokes – even inviting a backlash from the pro-establishment camp.

“Literally came back to Twitter for #SkyLovesDaddy and @Thanathorn_FWP Gotta go all the way for our beloved country and the future of our children,” user Lady_Instinct tweeted in English.

“It cannot be denied that the #SkyLovesDaddy phenomenon is a return to popularity for Thanathorn … prior to this, his name went quiet and was only mentioned negatively,” an analysis published by news site Momentum declared.

It all started when Thanathorn – a Thammasat graduate – went to watch an annual football match between Thammasat and Chulalongkorn universities on Saturday, where he was mobbed by a large crowd of students excited to see a politician running for prime minister in their midst.

Students took selfies with the 40-year-old and posted them on social media, drawing many positive comments about his appearance and build. Some women, charmed by Thanathorn, compared him to a handsome sugar daddy in “Dok Som Sithong,” a popular 2011 TV lakorn.

In the drama, superstar actress Araya “Chompoo” Hargate plays Fah (“Sky”) whose seduction of a wealthy businessman is launched with the phrase, “Sky loves daddy.”

“Hot daddy realness is in the house! #SkyLovesDaddy,” one tweet said.

“Official fanclub name: Sky,” user @Gotgreatgirl tweeted.

In the four days since the hashtag was born, the attention Thanathorn’s Facebook page receives has increased by 38 percent, according to online metrics.

“Daddy” and “Sky” in a post retweeted 3,700 times. Image: @zzzzzzyep

The digital obsession soon spread beyond his looks. Many users browsed Google to see who Thanathorn was and shared sound bites from his interviews under the hashtag – a boon for a party that has banked heavily on the new generation for support.

The trend drew a backlash from opponents of Thanathorn’s pro-democracy faction. A common allegation goes that gullible youth are being misled by looks.

In a poem posted online, Seri Wongmontha, a talk show host and military supporter, wrote online describing wanting to “vomit” when seeing youngsters falling for Thanathorn.

Even the author of the lakorn that gave birth to the popular phrase disowned its current embrace. “Dok Som Sithong” writer Salaya Sukanivatt took particular offense at an interview in which Thanathorn suggested Thai people like to smile because they can’t find answers when pressed on important issues such as human rights.

“A person with such prejudice and narrow-mindedness cannot be prime minister. Saying Thai people smile because they are stupid? What part of the brain did he use? It’s so clear his policies are written to look pretty and fool the stupid people (in his eyes),” Salaya said.

A fan art of Thanathorn by a Twitter user.

The criticism prompted purveyors of the hashtag to start tweeting #SkyLovesDadBecauseofHisPolicies instead.

“Daddy please fight on ❤ I want daddy to be prime minister because of your policies, because of your thinking, because of your works and visions, not only because of your looks, despite what many old people say,” @Smyio24 tweeted.

One woman even wrote online that she signed up as a member of Future Forward Party after researching Thanathorn’s policies.