GP Insights # 268, 22 February 2020
On 21 February, the Constitutional Court of Thailand dissolved the Future Forward Party (FFP), the opposition. The party was disbanded on the charge of "accepting 191.3 million baht from an illegitimate source". It was given as a loan by the party leader and business tycoon, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, for the party's development. The court ruled that the money loaned by Thanathorn to the party was considered "other benefits" under Section 66 of the Political Parties Act. This Act limits donations to 10 million baht per donor per year for each party. The court also banned 16 members of the party including Thanathorn, secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and spokesperson Pannika Wanich from politics for ten years.
What is the background?
The FFP was formed in 2018 and was able to capture 81 out of 500 seats in House of Representative in 2019 General Elections. The party due to their young leaders had garnered youth support and was also seen as an alternative to old corrupt leadership in power. They have been a vocal critique of the military-backed ruling coalition headed by Prayut Chan-O-Cha. Hence, the crackdown; FFP since its formation have faced 28 legal cases. In the 2019 election, even after winning a seat, Thanathorn was barred from the Parliament, on the charges of Media Law violation, which he denied.
Some of the legal cases against FFP have been bizarre. Previously, they were charged for plotting to overthrow the monarchy as their logo was found similar to Illuminati, a secret organization mentioned in Dan Brown's famous novel. Also, the ruling coalition wanted to form a Parliament Corruption Committee for looking into whether Thanathorn's mother once owned a plot of land had encroached any forest land. These cases point out the desperation to disband the FFP.
In Thai politics, such developments are not new. Previously Thaksin Shinawatra and his party have faced similar legal restrictions and cases. The Thai military who have led more than nine coups and returned to power repeatedly is known for the crackdown of their opposition.
Chan-O-Cha is former Army General and dictator who led the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), since the 2014 coup. Apart from the FFP, any critique of his government has met with similar resistance. In a recent attack on mob protest, the Thai military killed around 81 protestors.
What does it mean?
First, the legal action taken against FFP is unnecessary. There are other political parties in Thailand, who have received similar loans, no action has been taken against them. This is a piety charge for dissolving a political party. The verdict was predetermined and was evident; the judgment was reached and read within an hour.
Second, the verdict also underlines the failure of the judiciary. In a democracy, a neu judiciary plays a pivotal role. Such an incident has been repeated in Thai political history, depicts the state of democracy.
Thailand is also known for its corruption. There is also growing public anger due to the failing political systems and economy. Disbanding the party might increase people's anger against the government, especially among the youth.
Third, the FFP provided hope for the youth of Thailand, who believed in change. Although the party may form again under a different name, it will be a weak party for fighting in the next election in 2024. Hence, ending the hope of change among the youth.