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Thanathorn poised to disrupt political scene

Mar 05. 2018
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By SOMROUTAI SAPSOMBOON
THE NATION

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MORE THAN 40 groups have applied to set up political parties to contest the next general election, and many more are expected to come forward before the registration period ends at the end of this month.

One of the most talked-about aspiring new parties is one reportedly to be co-founded and supported by wealthy young businessman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, executive vice president of Thai Summit Group, the auto-parts manufacturing giant owned by his family.

Another key co-founder is expected to be Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a young law lecturer at Thammasat University who is part of the Nitirat group of academics, which has campaigned for amendments to the lese majeste law.

Thanathorn’s group has yet to register a new party with the Election Commission (EC), which began accepting applications last Friday. The 39-year-old said that the situation regarding the new party’s establishment would be clear in the latter half of the month.

Although there has been no announcement, it seems clear that Thanathorn has made a decision about his political future. He admitted that what he was doing was “risky” and its consequences could even affect his liberty and freedom in the future.

“However, for a better future, it is worth taking risks,” said the aspiring politician, who was a student activist while studying at Thammasat University almost 20 years ago.

Thanathorn is viewed as a “political heir” to his uncle, Suriya Juangroongruangkit, who once was a key figure in the Thaksin Shinawatra camp. However, Thanathorn appears to have tried to shake off that image. 

“Just listen to what I say and see what I do. Do not focus on my family name,” he said.

As soon as his political party comes into existence, a question will arise: Is it going to act as a proxy for any politician?

In response to that, Thanathorn responded: “We are not anyone’s nominee. If we are going to be anyone’s nominee, that must be the people who want to see a new future for the country. We will be nominees for the people who are oppressed or those who get their freedoms restricted.” 

Thanathorn’s group has been viewed as a “progressive” new alternative party that is dominated by younger people. But he said his party would also include those who “do not submit to unpleasant occurrences in society and instead believe in their power to change society for the better”.

However, it will not be easy for Thanathorn to get rid of a long-held perception that his family is linked to Thaksin. He may also find it difficult to explain the standpoint of certain figures in his would-be party who have campaigned strongly against the lese majeste law.

If he can prove that his new party is actually independent from any old political camp, it could really become a new alternative. 

Thai politics has been seen as severely polarised over the past decade. In fact, the silent “neutrals” form an equally large group as the two others, and they are patiently waiting for a credible “third choice”.

Whether Thanathorn’s party can eventually succeed in becoming that third choice remains to be seen. However, at least it has disrupted the current political equation dominated by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The ruling junta’s mission is to use any means to prevent the 2014 coup from being “wasted” – and that means to prevent the Thaksin camp from returning to power.

With someone from a family close to Thaksin about to set up a new political party, the junta’s mission will become harder to complete. The prospective new party – which seems to have won the backing of many NCPO critics and enemies – certainly does not side with the present powers-that-be. And it could become a headache for the junta by interrupting the political equation.

 

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