6 June 2024

All evidence shows Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and his top lieutenants saw it coming, but the Election Commission’s stand on their party’s loan controversy was near-fatal all the same. The young-blood politicians are given a very brief reprieve, as the EC, saying the borrowed money was illegal, has asked the Constitution Court to potentially slam the final nail into the coffin.


A simple election ban imposed on Future Forward executives including party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit would be hard enough and could be almost as deadly as party dissolution. Party executives make up a who’s who list of Future Forward, meaning that if they are banned, the newly-born party would require an efficient second generation to take it forward.


The EC asks the Constitution Court to consider disbanding the party, but with or without party dissolution, election bans on party executives would take out the likes of Thanathorn, Piyabutr Sangkanokkul and Pannika Wanich, among various key party persons. Party members who remain include newbies with strong ideology but probably not as much experience. Others are “veterans”, who are either ideologically driven or the mere “bandwagon” type who simply wanted to take advantage of the “Thanathorn fever.”


Future Forward can expect defections. How big the exodus will be will depend on many factors, political and financial. If a charity run event touted as a show of defiance against the government attracts a massive number of participants, the party can take heart from that. If the party decides to field a candidate in the Bangkok gubernatorial election and wins, the rebellious status will be greatly glorified and boost morale both inside and outside the organization. Standing in its way is Chadchart Sittipunt and maybe the Pheu Thai Party.


Future Forward can hope to become like Pheu Thai, a party run by remote control and relying largely on enduring popularity. However, Future Forward will have to compete primarily in the same market as Pheu Thai’s in the process, and the question of lame duck leadership will continually haunt it.


But a lot will depend on an issue that brought Future Forward current problems in the first place _ money. What has kept Pheu Thai together is not just a die-hard fan base, but also financial support from the Shinawatras. The Juangroongruangkits are enormously rich but they are not as rich as the other family. Circumstances have also been different. The Shinawatras have run governments, whereas Future Forward has been only fighting rearguard battles and nothing else.


In other words, how much Thanathorn is financially equipped and motivated to win this war is not the same as Thaksin Shinawatra.


The Election Commission’s devastating announcement seems to have another intriguing aspect as well. The panel said the origin of the loans was “suspicious”, a term that needs to be interpreted. Whatever interpretation is made, though, it will not be good for Thanathorn and it will possibly keep him on the ropes.


The man must have been encouraged by the Hong Kong model of political uprising. Again, factors are different between here and over there. It was relatively quiet here when he was recently disqualified as an MP, compared with the massive street protests in Hong Kong over some proposed legislation that did not affect the majority of demonstrators. But then again, nobody expected a red fury that shut down Ratchaprasong in 2010 either.


Somewhat ironically, he will need help from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. A good economy and scandal-free administration will blunt Thanathorn’s political offensive. Shortcomings of military interferences in politics have been what keeps the Thanathorn wheel rolling and good news for him is that signs of trouble are abundant on the government side as well.


A political system advocated by Thanathorn needs some convincing, at least for one half of the divided Thailand. What has happened to him and the other Future Forward executives cannot do that as far as “the other side” is concerned.


That is one problem. Another one is that the party, always on a rearguard battle, has virtually no time to solve it.