Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks to journalists after a Constitutional Court hearing in Bangkok on Nov. 20 when he was stripped of his MP status over a media shareholding case. (Photo: Panupong Changchai/AFP)
A prominent liberal politician in Thailand has warned that the anti-democratic tendencies of the country’s ruling military-backed government might cause disenfranchised locals to retake to the streets in protest.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of Thailand’s progressive Future Forward Party, told a gathering of journalists in Bangkok at a press event on Dec. 2 that he believed that people have lost their faith in the parliamentary system.
“For some people hope has been lost and they have stopped believing in politics,” he said.
Thanathorn, 40, a billionaire turned politician whose party is highly popular with young voters, accused Thailand’s elite of limiting democratic spaces, which could boil over into open discontent.
“The establishment are pushing people out,” he said. “They seem certain they can contain and control [the situation]. But many think otherwise. I’m not convinced. I think this is a very dangerous gamble.”
After nearly five years of rule by the military in a coup-prone nation, Thailand held elections in March.
A military-allied party was able to form a government on a thin majority against Future Forward and Pheu Thai, another popular pro-democratic party.
Foreign observers said that irregularities in vote counting and dubious decisions by the Election Commission showed that the elections weren’t entirely free and fair.
In late November, on the recommendation of the Election Commission, Thanathorn was stripped of his status as a member of parliament by the Constitutional Court on a technicality. He decried the decision as unjust and politically motivated.
The country’s judiciary has long been seen to be highly politicized in its decisions in favor of the establishment.
Thanathorn, who is facing numerous pending court cases against him, including treason, has been calling for the military’s influence in Thai politics to be reduced.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is a former army chief who led a coup that unseated a democratically elected government in 2014.
Current army chief Apirat Kongsompong has regularly spoken out harshly against Future Forward and other pro-democratic forces, although he is presumed to be politically neutral.
“They consistently use fake news and misinformation to discredit the opposition,” Thanathorn said. “They are branding us as traitors, branding us as anti-monarchy. They are instilling hatred that divides people in this country. We can clearly see an effort to dissolve our party.”