Future Forward Party criticised as inexperienced, republican, and a personality cult

The newly established Future Forward Party (FFP) has been heavily criticised for its lack of political experience, and its left-leaning orientation, with lots of talk of a social welfare state and inclusive society. 
 
On 15 March 2018, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Executive Vice President of the Thai Summit Group, hosted a press conference to launch a new party, Anakhot Mai, literally translated as ‘new future’, but whose official English name is the Future Forward Party. 
 
 
The founding members of the Future Forward Party at a press conference on 15 March 2018
 
The spotlight of Thai politics is shining on the party’s key leaders, Thanathorn and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law professor at Thammasat University. They have claimed that the party will break the vicious circle of Thai politics, where the military claims to be a middleman to solve political conflicts. Piyabutr said the military itself is, in fact, the root of the problem.
 
Prachatai has interviewed 10 founding members of the party. Most of them voiced their dreams of a welfare state and a society that includes everybody regardless of gender, age and physicality. The party’s logo is an inverted pyramid. Wipaphan Wongsawang, a founding member who started Thaiconsent.org, explained that the logo means that “the poor and marginalised people, who are the majority of this country and used to be at the bottom, are replacing the elite, who are the minority, at the top”.
 
Looking like Justin Trudeau’s cabinet members who are from a diverse background, the founding members who appeared at the press conference today included Nalutporn Krairisksh, a disabled journalist and founder of the Thisable.me news website about disabled people, Kath Khangpiboon, a trans lecturer and LGBT rights activist, Alisa Bindusa, a Muslim trans and environmental activist and Kritthanan Ditthabanjong, a 20-year-old HIV activist. 
 
“The FPP will promote policies that focus on decentralisation, give people equal economic opportunity, improve wellbeing, enable people to access capital and resources, destroy business monopolies and develop a welfare system that provides everyone with comprehensive insurance for all from birth to death,” said Piyabutr. 
 
The emergence of FFP has brought with it various controversies. In the view of its supporters, the party is the new hope of Thai politics. However, many people are sceptical about the political experience of its members, who are mostly young social activists in their 20s. 
 
At the conference Thanathorn refused to discuss details about the party’s policies, citing the junta’s ban on political campaigning. He also declared that his party will not accept an outsider PM and the undemocratic legacy of the NCPO. “We couldn’t waste more time. See how our economic competitiveness today is? The cost of peace is too high. The peace nowadays is a superficial peace and comes at the cost of people’s rights and freedoms and years-long economic stagnation. It’s already too much,” Thanathorn said of the administration of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
 

How loyal is this party? 

 

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul
 
The harshest criticism comes from hyper-royalists who accuse the party of aiming to change Thailand into a republic. This is because of Piyabutr’s previous involvement with Nitirat, a group of academics who propose the amendment of Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.
 
The lèse majesté allegation was brought up by a royalist celebrity, M.C. Chulcherm Yugala, who posted on his Facebook page that there was a “new generation” party with the intention of turning Thailand into a republic and the abolition of Article 112 was only the first step. Chulcherm also accused the party of having a connection with the anti-establishment red shirts.
 
“This land, this kingdom must have a monarchy, and the monarchs must last forever. No one can ever think of abolishing it. If you think that, we will have to see about you,” Chulcherm posted, adding that he will also run a political party to protect the monarchy.
 
Criticism from royalists has worried some of Piyabutr’s supporters who fear that he will abandon the campaign to amend the law in order to avoid political and legal harassment from the political establishment.
 
Piyabutr argued at the press conference that his activities in the past with Nitirat were to promote democracy and actually to protect the monarchy so that the institution would not be abused as a political tool. He observed that the Thai authorities nowadays are also aware of the problems of the lèse majesté law and are seeking a way to reduce the number of prosecutions.
 
“The amendment of Article 112 will prevent anyone from using the law to harm others. No one will be able to use the monarchy to destroy those who think differently or their political opponents. The monarchy will flourish in a way that is stable, secure, honourable, modern and compatible with democracy,” Piyabutr said.
 
On the question whether the FPP will campaign for the amendment of Article 112 or not, Piyabutr refused to answer, claiming that the NCPO’s ban on a political campaign is still in place. He insisted that the party’s policies have to be based on agreement among party members and the party’s supporters, not a one-man show. 
 

Will Thanathorn repeat Thaksin's path?

 
Being a successful businessman jumping into politics, Thanathorn has inevitably been compared to Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former PM and a divisive figure in Thai political conflicts for over a decade. Given that most party members are from the younger generation and social media celebrities, most critics say that the party will end up becoming a personality-based party dominated by a few rich leaders.
 
(From left) Kunthida Rungruengkiat, Surin Khamsuk and Chamnan Chanruang
 
“The party could have reached out to prominent professionals and practitioners working in the fields of business, non-profit, media, education, and public policy. The party should not be dominated by naïve and untested idealists who have not interacted or worked with the system. My colleagues and I were extremely hopeful when we saw the news about this alternative party, but based on the names of the so-called co-founders at it stands, I think the party is unelectable,” said a veteran human rights activist who asked not to be named.
 
Some anti-junta activists are also doubtful about the term “new generation” that the party repeatedly uses. Chotisak Onsoong, an activist from the Group of Comrades, pointed out that most of the party members are “hipster” middle-class people from Bangkok, who may not really reflect the rest of the new generation in society.
 
“The party leaders have talked about a new generation since the beginning, but the question is who is that new generation? Does it include motorcycle racers, vocational students or even students in upcountry universities and not big universities?” Chotisak questioned.
 
In response to the criticism, Thanathorn stated that the FPP will not rely on “money from his pocket”, but rather a crowd-funding model like American parties. He believes that this method will prevent him and other members from absolutely dominating the party since its financial support comes from all members. 
 
“I believe that a political party like this is possible and I will have to listen to them. It will keep me close to the interests of the party members. That’s what we will do. There will be no one who is stronger or has more power than other members because the money does not come from that one person,” Thanathorn explained.
 
Piyabutr and Thanathorn also invited four other founding members to share reasons for joining the party. The four include Nalutporn; Chamnan Chanruang, a Chiang Mai University lecturer who campaigns for decentralisation; labour unionist Surin Khamsuk; and Kunthida Rungruengkiat, an independent education academic.
 
These members seem to have acquired some experience in civil society work and dealing with government. However, there are still other members who call themselves filmmaker, freelance translator, feminist writer, craft beer brewer and “digital farmer”. These members have until February 2019 to prove to society that they are electable candidates.