[FINAL] Future Forward defiant after party dissolution; new leader announced after executive committee banned

Thailand’s Future Forward Party took a defiant tone on Friday after the country’s Constitution Court voted to dissolve the party over an illegal loan case involving party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

The party said after the ruling that it disagreed strongly with the verdict handed down by the court.

“I am using my right to speech to criticize and disagree with the ruling of the constitutional court,” said party Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.

In its ruling, the court agreed with the Electoral Commission that loans made by Thanathorn to the party totaling over 190 million baht were illegal as they breached electoral laws that prohibit donations of more than 10 million baht by any individual to a political party.

“We wanted to be transparent with how we spend our money. This scenario teaches us that parties must not be transparent, must not be open about their finances. Being transparent only leads to party dissolution,” said Piyabutr.

Piyabutr said that the establishment was doing its utmost to get rid of those that disagreed with them.

“What this shows is that Thailand will not allow a political party that is transparent and willing to fight for structural reforms to the country,” he said.

“This is not the end, this is just the beginning,”

Thanathorn, meanwhile, used the opportunity to address his supporters and thank them for accompanying him and the party on their journey.

“Because Future Forward has ended, I want to apologize to our supporters for being unable to keep our promises,” Thanathorn said. “But we have worked our utmost to bring about those changes and I can say to all that in our country’s darkest moment we made a stand.”

“This journey is not over, this is not the time to be sad, not the time to cry. They want to destroy us but now we have to prove to them that they cannot.”

New leadership

Thanathorn also took the opportunity to introduce Pita Limjaroenrat as the interim leader of the remaining Future Forward MPs and said he was confident that they would carry on the vision of the party.

“We will build on the legacy of the past party and carry on their vision,” said Pita in his first public address. “We might stumble along the way but if we do not give up we will eventually be successful.

Pita said that the name of a new party and the shape it would take would be revealed after the censure debate as that was the party’s main priority at this time.

Immediate consequences

As a result of the ruling, 65 former Future Forward MPs will now be without a party. Pita said that the new party would take shape within a week.

It remains to be seen whether the new party will be able to keep all 65 MPs as there will be no shortage of offers from the various coalition and opposition parties looking to shore up their numbers.

The 11 seats vacated by the party’s former leaders will also have to be reallocated and it is unclear how the EC plans to divvy up the seats.

The most immediate consequence politically of the dissolution will be felt at next week’s censure debate, where Future Forward’s leadership were to play a key role in the questioning of the government.

Prayut reaction

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said in a now-deleted tweet that he hoped supporters of the Future Forward party would respect the decision of the court.

“I hope that supporters of Future Forward will find other ways to investigate and hold the government responsible,” Prayut tweeted. “Having a good and responsible opposition is beneficial to the country, beneficial to the people and to a constitutional democracy.”

Understanding the decision

Analysts say that the decision to dissolve the party will likely backfire and galvanize more support towards Future Forward and the opposition.

“We have made Thanathorn a political martyr,” said Fuadi Pitsuwan, a Fellow at the School of Public Policy at Chiang Mai University.

“He is a much more deserving one than Thaksin. And that is a scary thought for our political stability during the time when our economy could be shrinking.”

Fuadi added that young people were unlikely to take kindly to the decision.

“The establishment has disenfranchised the people of Esaan before, but this time they have managed to do that to young people. And young people have energy, resources, passion and, particularly, time to fight back.”

Defiance from supporters

Piyabutr ended his address on Friday by calling for people to stand up for change and to join them in standing up to the establishment.

Many supporters attending the press conference were receptive and expressed their willingness to continue the fight.

“I predicted this but the movement doesn’t end here. The movement continues with the people and we will keep moving forward,” said Nopparuj Phaokla, 19, from Bangkok.

“Future Forward has been the catalyst for change.”

[Reporting by Cod Satrusayang, Diane Louys, Pear Maneechote, and Erich Parpart]

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