21 May 2024

The Skywalk protest is most likely the point of no return. It’s where Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit effectively “crossed the line” into a new territory in which he might ironically provoke something he had repeatedly pledged to prevent from happening _ military intervention in politics.

To be fair, he did not seem to have a choice. An Election Commission ruling against his loans to his own party put the fledging political camp on the brink and Thanathorn himself on the threshold of prolonged electoral ban and even jail. If he had not taken to streets, it would be like a badly bruised and dazed boxer going into a crucial round with his guards down.

Clips of his earlier speeches went viral before, during and after the Skywalk gathering last weekend. In them, he vowed to only use Parliament to effect changes. Certainly, the politician of all the people knows full well what kind of risks is associated with street protests _ whether they are “flash” or “encamped”.

But charges of hypocrisy should be the least of his concern. Most of his opponents and allies are not better off when it comes to alleged double standards. What should worry him is the question whether the Skywalk move would compound his and his party’s legal misery.

There are rules on public gatherings, and those organized by political parties are under even stricter legal conditions, apparently designed to prevent registered parliamentary parties from using mob pressure to achieve political gains. Complaints are being contemplated against the Future Forward Party, whose leaders appeared on the Skywalk to address their anti-government supporters. If the party is off the hook on the loans controversy, what happened on the Skywalk is the next big threat.

Thanathorn must have decided that all the risks were worth taking, not least because the loan issue appeared like the final nail in his and the party’s coffin, which would make any legal consequences of the Skywalk incident irrelevant anyway. Moreover, the gathering gave him some ideas whether an “uprising” was possible if he stepped it up.

Judging Thanathorn requires opening up to two contrasting perspectives, which revolve around two important questions. Did he break the laws? Was he targeted for elimination by enemies who comfortably ignore similar “crimes” by others? If the answer to the first question is “Yes”, then ones can frown at the Skywalk strategy. If the answer to the second question is “Yes”, then ones understand the Skywalk gathering better.

But what if it is “Yes, yes”? Ideology will come into play and it will help explain why Thailand’s political divide is so hard to solve. One side of Thailand will support Thanathorn no matter what, just as the other side will always find his “crimes” unacceptable.

One thing seems easier to say: It looks increasingly impossible for him to “cross back.” He is destined to go down the path, with supporters blaming his opponents for it and critics pointing out that he had it coming himself. Whatever the true cause, there is little surprise, except that the crossover is coming much sooner than anticipated.