FUTURE FORWARD, which is billed as a “progressive” political party and viewed by many as a new hope for the country’s deeply divided politics, faces a big challenge in connecting with grassroots voters.
And some observers wonder if the party’s successful introduction might be short-lived.
While the group and many supporters highlight its youthful energy as a strength – generated by its predominantly urban and young members – critics from both the left and right wings believe that Future Forward could have a difficult time reaching out to mass voters in rural areas.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political critic living in exile, asked on the Turn-Left Thailand website whether the group had any concrete policies to present and expressed concern that it could not rely just on the image of being “young and progressive”.
The political scientist pointed to Italy’s Five Star Movement as well as several soi-disant “young blood” parties that emerged in Thailand after the October 14, 1973, student-led uprising. Those parties presented themselves as being different, left-leaning and belonging to the younger generation. But they later faded away after failing to deliver any meaningful policies.
“Will [Future Forward] turn out to be just like that? I hope not. But I’m not sure,” Giles wrote on the website.
He said several issues needed to be addressed, including abolishment of the lese majeste law, release of all political prisoners and a reduction of the military budget and its role in politics.
Disparity was another issue that Giles highlighted, while pointing out that the group’s leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s company, Thai Summit, had been unfriendly to a labour union, resulting in the termination of 260 employees in 2006.
Giles said he hoped to see the new party taking a role in leading movements over public agendas, and not just working in Parliament. He thought Future Forward might not be successful in the next election as it would take some time before it gained popularity.
Yuthaporn Issarachai, former dean of the Political Science Faculty at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said Future Forward has an interesting ideology and showed a broader horizon of political views, not being framed by the traditional politics restricted by Parliament.
While it is a progressive party, he noted that its founding members are mostly businessmen, academics, activists and urban young people, although most voters are in rural areas.
“In my view the party will only win votes from some groups of young progressive people,” he said. “And it should be noted that in the long run or in the next five years, a lot more parties like this one will emerge.”
Although Thanathorn has made it clear that Future Forward is not an alternative but aimed to be a core party in a future government, Attasit Pankaew, a political scientist from Thammasat University, thought the party had too little time to accomplish anything.
“If the election is to really take place in February next year, they will have roughly six months to get things done. It won’t be in time,” he said. “Plus, Thai politics relies mainly on a support base of voters. The group has to figure out how to build such a base.”
He added that the party would be too optimistic to think that it could go without relying on any former MPs or that it could change the nature of elections in Thailand for this election, but they might be able to in the future.
Ideology alone might not be enough either, the critic said. “We’ll have to see if the party has any policies to offer mass voters,” he added.