Now that Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has been found guilty of violating the election laws, the future of his party and Thai politics are becoming even more uncertain.
The Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that Thanathorn was guilty of owning shares in a media firm, V Luck, when he registered to run for elections in March. This is prohibited under election regulations. As a punishment, he was stripped of his MP seat.
Carelessness or not, Thanathorn has failed himself and his supporters.The shares could have been transferred much earlier, in a more transparent manner. What might have been easily avoided could prove to be a very costly blunder for the man who was recently selected by Time Magazine to be part of its TIME 100 Next – a list of young leaders from various fields around the world.
In an attempt to mitigate fears about the future of Thanathorn and his faction, party spokeswoman Pannikar Wanich quickly tweeted after the ruling on Wednesday afternoon that Thanathorn remains leader of the party. He is even technically still their PM a candidate for any vote in the future.
But for how long?
Given numerous other legal challenges filed against Thanathorn – 25 in all – it is not that far fetched to imagine the day the Future Forward no longer has a future.
The charismatic Thanathorn has been playing a political role outside the parliament for half a year now. He has been barred from joining fellow MPs in the chamber ever since the court accepted complaint against him and suspended his lawmaker status in May. This means Thanathorn is well-adjusted to the new reality.
Besides running the party and monitoring parliamentary debate from outside, the 40-year-old first-timer politician also spent considerable time meeting party supporters around the kingdom.
That won’t be temporary role anymore for Thanathorn. And he will have to think hard as to how he can carve out a political future outside the parliament in the meantime. This is a big if; he could still be jailed up to 10 years if today’s verdict is picked up by the Supreme Court’s Division for Political Office Holders, who might decide to deliver a harsher punishment.
Given the many signals sent by the establishment that Thanathorn and his party are a mortal threat to them – one can recall the notorious tirade by army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong – it is reasonable to predict that the authorities will eventually find some legal ground to dissolve the party itself.
After all, this is a party bent on rewriting from scratch the junta-sponsored charter, cutting down defense budget, abolishing the military conscription, and pushing for more decentralization.
If we come to the day when Thanathorn is sentenced to jail and the party dissolved, what will become of the 6.2 million voters who supported the party in the poll?
Those who are politically awakened can no longer be put back to blissful slumber. But what would they do with their discontent? Will they be content with just making noise and venting out their anger inside Twitter and Facebook, particularly the many young people who turned Thanathorn into a Twitter star with 650,000 followers?
It’s easy to mistake the virtual reality of social media for the actual reality which is larger and more encompassing. It’s also unimaginative for them to merely descend to the streets, and start another round of angry, prolonged street protests like the ones Thailand saw for much of the past two decades.
More challenging would be how these people could still make their voices and votes relevant in the event that the Future Forward is disbanded and Thanathorn put in prison. They might be forced to find a surrogate party, to use more imagination, will, and resilience to maintain their resistance.
In order to protect the voices they have spoken at the ballot, they will have to be inventive. If Future Forward supporters wish to have a political tomorrow, they must realize the only easy day was yesterday.