The Future Forward Party and its radical leader could emerge after the March 24th election as a new voice in Thai politics and one of the the striking winners of the election even though the party looks likely to finished behind Pheu Thai. The support for the new, progressive and harsh anti junta party outside of Bangkok as well its growing support among its young, urban base is a notable trend in this election so far. Much of it is due to the unflinching stance of the party’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. However last week, trouble loomed on the horizon for the charismatic young business man. Thai police sent a file to prosecutors over a provocative Facebook post in 2018 where Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit took aim at the military in a speech on the current political order in no uncertain terms. Although no prosecution has yet been decided upon, such a course and a subsequent conviction could see Thanathorn jailed and barred from Thai politics

Last week, the Thai police confirmed that a file was being sent to Thai prosecutorial authorities in relation to a Facebook post and speech made by Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. If a prosecution is taken up and the 40 year old is convicted under Thailand’s sweeping and draconian Computer Crime Act, it could see the emerging political leader jailed for five years and barred from Thai politics. It comes as his party is emerging as a winner in the Thai general election which will see Thai people go to the polls on March 24th. The already successful business man and reported billionaire, represents a direct challenge to the new political edifice in Thailand designed and engineered by the military junta since 2014 to ensure stability, harmony and order.

Last week, Thai police confirmed that they were pursuing the prosecution of the leader of the new Future Forward Party, 40 year old Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. As the election campaign in Thailand moves into high gear, a clear trend is emerging. That is the strength still ofin support for the former ruling party Pheu Thai Party which is consistently emerging in a leadership position in the opinion polls not only in his heartland of Isan or northeastern Thailand but also in Bangkok. This may not however be such a surprise. However, the big news emerging from this election and perhaps the big news after polling day, is the success of the new and progressive Future Forward Party which has been racking up high poll scores not only among the young and urban voters of Bangkok but also right into Thailand’s rural heartlands.

Young leader challenges the new political order in Thailand created by the military junta

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit poses with a voter on the campaign trail. The new young political leader has struck a chord with younger Thai people looking for an alternative to Red and Yellow factions. However the new Future Forward Party is more than this. The party, formed by the 40 years old business man and reported billionaire, wants to follow a radical, progressive agenda for Thailand and is highly critical of the Thai military junta and the 2017 Thai constitution. This week, a 2018 Facebook incident which saw Thanthorn questioned by Thai police resurfaced when the police indicated that they were forwarding a file to the Thai Attorney General’s office for a decision on whether to prosecute the Future Forward Party leader under Thailand’s draconian Compute Crime Act for his inflammatory rhetoric against the military junta on the basis of uploading ‘false information’ on the internet. If he is prosecuted and convicted, he could face up to 5 years in prison and be barred from Thai politics. (Picture: Reuters)

It may pose a possible headache for the incumbent Prime Minister and the military as Mr Juangroongruangkit has, from the outset, pursued a strident anti junta tone perhaps more than any other party in the race. His party has also pledged to immediately, on election to the new parliament, campaign for the alteration or even replacement of the new Thai constitution signed into law in 2017. This is seen as the cornerstone of the achievements of the military junta which is still committed to promoting and preserving security and order in Thailand. The constitution places curbs on the role of political parties pursuing popular policies and gives precedence to a longer term goal and value of preserving order and harmony in the kingdom. It also preserves a role for the Thai military in political affairs for now.

Thai police send case against young political leader to the Thai prosecutors office

The problem for Thanathorn right now lies in a possible prosecution being pursued by Thai police under Thailand’s draconian Computer Crime Act.

In June last year, Thanathorn posted a video following a Facebook live broadcast video in which he severely criticised the currently military junta known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Last week, Police Lieutenant Colonel Krit Seneewong Na Ayutthaya, an investigator with Thailand’s Technology Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police confirmed that action was being taken in relation to the emerging political leader’s case and two others. ‘We will send both the case for prosecution and the suspects to the attorney-general,’ he said.

Thanathorn says case against him is political

The Future Forward Party leader may face prosecution along with two executive of the Anakhot Mai Party. They are accused of uploading ‘false information’ in their speech published on Facebook in June 2018. The wide ranging term is what makes the Thailand’s Computer Crime Acts so draconian and dangerous for online commentary in Thailand. It is, however ,used quite sparingly by Thai authorities. If the Future Forward Party is prosecuted and convicted by a Thai court, he could be facing up to 5 years in prison. The decision on whether to prosecute Mr Juangroongruangkit or not has yet to be made. It is a matter for the prosecutor’s office to adjudicate on. A conviction under the law would cause Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to be effectively barred from Thai politics. The Future Forward leader suggested last week that the move to prosecute him was politically motivated. ‘It’s obvious that as the election approaches, the case is being rushed ahead … we’re ready to face whatever challenge comes our way,’ he said.

New party is progressive and popular with Thai youth

Future Forward is standing on a progressive platform for Thailand. In many ways, the party is the antithesis of everything the National Council for Peace and Order stands for. The strident and confrontational approach of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has drawn huge support from students in Thailand particularly university students and younger university graduates. His party has been emerging as a significant second player behind Pheu Thai in opinions polls consistently showing the party with over 20% of the vote and an even higher share in Bangkok.

Strong Future Forward Party in Parliament just what the military junta does not need

In the Thai election, opposition parties must attain 376 seats out of the 500 up for election in the lower house of parliament to elect a Prime Minister other than Prayut Chan ocha, the incumbent who is supported by the new nationwide Palang Pracharat Party. The former ruling Pheu Thai Party is leading in the opinion polls and is seen as the nucleus of the opposition. However, a strong showing by the Future Forward Party, which seems likely right now, would be the big news out of the election. This combined with a strong showing for Pheu Thai would deliver a strong moral win for the opposition if not the numbers to unseat Prayut. This is still, however, viewed as unlikely but Thailand’s elections can thrown up surprising and even decisive outcomes

Confrontational tone of new part leader not conducive to political harmony and consensus

Active opposition by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit in the new parliament could torpedo any attempts to produce a more harmonious and consensual selection of Prime Minister. In such an environment, it is more likely to be the current office holder Prayut Chan ocha who is personally popular with Thai people for his gruff manner and has consistently emerged as the favorite in a simple poll for Prime Minister for the six months coming out just ahead of Pheu Thai Prime Ministerial candidate Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan.

New party has positioned itself as an alternative to red and yellow shirt politics in Thailand

The problem for the military junta is Mr Juangroongruangkit refusal to accept the new constitution and a determination to oppose it. He is not alone in that. The Pheu Thai Party and even the older Democrat Party are both on record as opposing the current charter. The young businessman and reported billionaire has positioned his party as a new alternative to red and yellow shirt politics but his party’s progressive policies are also at odds with the conservative and traditional values promoted by the junta. These include support for the army, traditional Thai culture, respect for the country and law and order. The Future Forward Party’s pledge and often stated intention to pursue prosecutions against those who staged the 2014 coup have also set it on a collision course with the military. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s style and the policies of his party are notably different to the former ruling party, Pheu Thai which while never accepting the military, the 2014 coup and the 2017 constitution, has pursued a more cautious and less confrontational approach. Pheu Thai is also seen as more traditional and less radical than the new party which advocates nothing less the modernizing Thailand. It is a call that appears to be appealing to a surprising number Thai people, both young and old. Whether the opinion polls translates to votes and more importantly seats in parliament is, of course, a different matter.

New complaints against Future Forward leader

Meanwhile, the Future Party leaders problems grew over the weekend when the Secretary of a group called the Association for the Protection of the Constitution vowed to lodge a complaint with the powerful election commission asking for an investigation into facts published on the Future Forward Party’s website which were erroneous. Srisuwan Janya drew attention to biographical information on Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit stating that he was a former President of the Federation of Thai Industry from 2008 until 2012. It has emerged, in fact, that the new political leader was, in fact, the president of a chapter of that organisation in Nakhon Nayok province. It is reported that this error was visible on the site for a 5 month period. The misleading biographical note was also copied to Wikipedia. The error was later corrected.

Electoral law sanction for misleading voters

The official for the Association for he Protection of the Constitution feels that the misleading information could have had a material impact on the election. Mr Janya feels that there may be grounds to hold that the Future Forward Party leader and his party may be in breach of Section 73 (5) of the Thai Election Act governing the poll. This covers the use of false information to encourage the public to vote in a certain way.

Call to investigate Future Forward Secretary General

Violation of the law, in this respect, carries a 1 to 10 years prison term and fine of up to ฿200,000. The key question is whether there existed an intention to break the law. Mr Janya wants to see the election commission investigate the matter further. The Association Secretary also revealed that he was lodging another complaint against the Secretary General of the Future Forward Party. He suggests that Piyabutr Saengkanokkul also committed a breach of the same section of the election law when he made provocative statements on Facebook stating that some elements of the Thai media had negatively portrayed voters from Thailand’s North Eastern region of Isan.

Thailand’s long week in politics still points to a strong opposition performance in the election