From protests to Parliament? Move Forward’s Chonthicha Jangrew hits election trail
After campaigning vigorously for reform of the Thai monarchy, activist Chonthicha “Lookkate” Jangrew is now setting her sights on entering politics and becoming an MP.
Introduced last Saturday as an opposition Move Forward Party candidate for the next general election, Chonthicha vowed to continue her push for monarchy reform in Parliament if elected.
Chonthicha, 27, was quoted in the Thai media that if voted in, she would seek cuts in the budget for the monarchy and changes to Article 112 of the Penal Code covering lèse-majesté.
For her, reform of the monarchy is a middle ground uniting both political sides — royalists on one and reformists on the other.
“I sincerely believe that our country has people who love and have faith in the monarchy but also people who no longer love [the monarchy]. It’s not wrong to not love someone, but you also can’t tell people to stop loving someone,” she was quoted as saying.
Activist turned would-be politician
On February 12, Move Forward unveiled Chonthicha as its candidate for Constituency 3 in Pathum Thani, along with five other candidates the party will field in the province at the next national vote. The others include an activist, a businessman, a former journalist, and a lawyer.
Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat said Chonthicha was selected because of her strong will, work experience and reputation as a “fighter for democracy” — both domestically and overseas.
“She is ready to prove herself in switching from an activist to a representative [of the people],” Pita said.
He pointed out that Chonthicha was following in the footsteps of fellow former activist Rangsiman Rome, now an MP and the party’s deputy secretary-general.
Some observers view that Rangsiman’s success demonstrates Move Forward’s strategy to turn pro-democracy activists into MPs to achieve a peaceful political transition.
Rangsiman and Chonthicha worked together at the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) formed to campaign against junta rule and demand early elections after the 2014 military coup led by then-Army Chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Chonthicha took over the DRG helm from Rangsiman after he entered politics by joining Move Forward’s predecessor, the now-defunct Future Forward Party, to contest the March 2019 general election.
Facing multiple charges
In June 2015, a little over a year after the coup, Chonthicha joined a protest against military rule. She was arrested and charged with sedition along with 13 male protesters, before being held in detention on remand for 12 days.
After being released she joined other protests, which drew many more charges against her, including insulting the monarchy under Article 112.
Meanwhile, royalists alleged she had been “bought off” by the US government to undermine her motherland.
In 2020 and 2021, Chonthicha also took part in student-led protests organized by the Free Youth, Ratsadon and other groups. She often took the role of “chief of staff” of the young protesters, even negotiating with anti-riot police.
Chonthicha was an environmental activist until the military coup in 2014.
Potential legal obstacle
Observers say that legal cases stemming from her political activism could prove an obstacle to her entry into politics. The Constitution prohibits anyone found guilty of a criminal offense from contesting in an election.
However, Chonthicha and Pita have voiced confidence that court trouble would pose no problem for her. The Move Forward leader said the party would take care of the legal issues.
Chonthicha told reporters that all cases against her remain under trial, and she has not been convicted. “I am sure I will not be disqualified from contesting the [next general] election,” she said.
Told to change surname
Chonthicha comes from a military family and recalls growing up in a culture of authoritarianism.
She said senior family members who were upset by her activism pressured her parents to get her to change her surname. The relatives in question argued that her political moves — protesting against the junta and also Gen Prayut’s post-election government — affected their status as a businessman and a senior military officer.
However, she opted to keep her original family name after receiving moral support from other relatives.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk