11 July 2024

All eyes will be on Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit next week when he and two other party executives face the prosecutors for a Facebook Live session that allegedly discredited the prime minister and the Palang Pracharat Party. A political storm seems to be brewing for the businessman-turned-politician.

If a decision is made to prosecute him, there will be an uproar, which can grow a lot bigger if he is locked up. The possibility of him being refused bail is not high, but the party is voicing grave concern at the moment, and a “Savethanathorn” hashtag has been prevalent online.

That is for the immediate future. The long-term ones for Thanathorn and his party are not rosy, either. As an apparently shrewd businessman, he must have known it better than anybody else.

In a “so-so” scenario, Future Forward can end up a mini version of the Democrats — being fairly popular among urban voters but finding it hard to win over the grassroots. In another scenario, Future Forward can end up firmly entrenched with the divisive Shinawatras, being pushed farther and farther away from city voters but managing to appeal to the rural populace.

In what could be the worst-case scenario, which many analysts believe is likely to happen, Future Forward ends up “in the middle”, with small chances of growing due to considerable skepticism of urban voters and continued domination of the Shinawatra camp in rural areas.

The party’s situation is unique and intriguing. It is presenting itself as a new-blood party, projecting a sophisticated look. In normal political circumstances, there would be nothing wrong with that. Problem is that Thai politics is far from normal, and the party is seeking to appeal to a market that largely refuses to buy from the Shinawatras.

That market is having doubts about the military, too. Future Forward, however, has virtually burned the bridges with the military while making its alliance with the Pheu Thai camp clearer and clearer with each passing day. Thanathorn has gone all in on something his market is reluctant about.

Future Forward can end up fighting for votes with the Pheu Thai camp. Thailand’s divisive politics means that anti-Shinawatra voters will not vote for him, no matter what, leaving Future Forward to appeal to the same customer base as Pheu Thai’s. As a businessman, he certainly knows how hard it is to challenge the market leader.

Some hard-core red shirts have disavowed him, saying that he had softened his stance on some key nationalist issues since becoming a politician. However, he must be hoping that in a country balking at troublesome political rivalry, a new political party appealing to the new generation will have a good chance.

“New-generation” votes, if they are actually meant for Future Forward, are not concentrated in any constituencies. This means the party has mountains to climb in most, if not all, electoral zones. Future Forward’s best hope, therefore, can be that it wins enough nationwide votes to send a fair number of candidates to Parliament through the new proportional system.

All this goes back to the question of whether Future Forward is the right product for the right market and has the right competitor.  – ThaiPBS World’s Political Desk