11 July 2024

Controversial media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul has made an intriguing point the other day when he warned Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit against falling into a trap of old-fashion politics. The young political star was told to keep a distance and allow his party to grow naturally instead of relying on his enormous wealth and influences.


Of Thailand’s key political parties, the Democrats are the only one who can boast natural and democratic successions and transitions. Thaksin Shinawatra virtually owns his political force, which looks up to him and his wealthy family when it comes to financial supplies. The Chartthaipattana Party is all but controlled by the Silpa-archa family, again, thanks to the clan’s money. Many other old-fashioned political leaders have been using the same approach to establish influences — in other words throwing money around.


Sondhi said reports on Thanathorn’s loans to his own Future Forward Party worry him. Political and constitutional complications aside, the money put Future Forward in danger of becoming a “Thanathorn Party”, making him or his family “the owner”, not a “leader” who is more subjected to natural, transitional changes.


The Democrat Party’s modern-history leadership list includes Chuan Leekpai, Banyat Bantadtan, Bhichai Rattakul, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Jurin Laksanavisit. They are not related and none of them is rich enough to control a whole political party. Democrat factions have fought fiercely in leadership elections, but wealth was never a decisive factor. Thailand’s oldest party has seen ups and downs, and yet none has happened because the relevant leader had too much or too little money.


Sondhi did not mention the Democrats in his message to Thanathorn, but the caution suggests their transitional formula was right. The following questions were posed by the media entrepreneur, who used to be a Thaksin cheerleader but whose fallout with the man in Dubai helped spark the on-going political crisis:


  1. Do the loans mean Future Forward belongs to Thanathorn or the public?
  2. How will Future Forward pay back the loans?
  3. (By establishing financial influences over a political party,) is Thanathorn really playing “new politics” as he always claims?


Such suspicion, Sondhi said, was not healthy for politics and even Thanathorn himself. For a man picked on by opponents for every single move he makes, the doubts stemming from the use of his wealth are not helping. According to Sondhi, Thanathorn is unwise to bring money into the equation.


In other words, Future Forward’s trouble has come from both the outside and inside. And the sources can feed off each other.


A few days ago, public prosecutors decided to drop charges against Thanathorn in connection with his controversial Facebook live in which he mocked Prayut Chan-o-cha’s mainstream media broadcasts and the Palang Pracharat Party’s “sucking power.” Noticeably, Thanathorn has gotten away when money is not a factor.


Cases in which money play a big part — the media share controversy and the loans to his own party — are still looming menacingly. They have to do with a Constitution that he disdains, but in campaigning against it, Thanathorn and his biggest ally, Pheu Thai, will have to be careful with one extremely dangerous term — “money politics”.