THE NEWLY registered Future Forward Party has come under the media spotlight and into public attention for a variety of reasons – not just because of the “progressive” and “anti-dictatorship” image it is portraying, but also the fact that it is appealing to young voters.
Its founders are among almost 50 groups of people who have applied with the Election Commission to register new political parties, following partial relaxation of the political restrictions that came after the military coup in 2014.
However, Future Forward seems to be one of the most prominent.
The party stands out as one of a few new parties with no obvious involvement of existing politicians blamed for the political conflicts and the resultant social division over the past “lost decade”. Also, no bureaucrats are among the party’s co-founders.
It is a party of “ordinary people” who come from a wide range of social groups. And the party seems to be distancing itself from “old politics”.
The co-founders include a wealthy young businessman, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and young law lecturer, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.
Thanathorn, 39, comes from the family that owns the country’s largest auto-parts manufacturer, Thai Summit, and he serves as executive vice president of the company. Piyabutr, 38, is part of the Nitirat group of academics that has campaigned against the lese majeste law.
Other co-founders represent different interest groups such as a lawyer with the skill to produce craft beer, the founder of a website for the disabled, the leader of a Muslim students’ group, and a transgender rights campaigner.
They all are prominent figures and thought leaders among their groups. And they certainly can appeal to young voters, particularly those who are going to cast their ballots for the first time.
Moreover, Future Forward is viewed as a “progressive” party whose co-founders bring with them an array of issues that challenge the conservative establishment and mainstream thought. These include standpoints over the lese majeste law, sexual diversity and religious rights.
The party has gained interest from both conservatives and liberals, as well as older and younger people, at the same time.
Also, their apparent stance against the ruling junta and an “outsider” prime minister has attracted attention from both supporters and detractors of the military. And, unsurprisingly, Future Forward has come under a watchful eye of the powers-that-be.
Thanathorn himself has been likened to Thaksin Shinawatra as a young businessman making his political debut.
Then a telecoms entrepreneur, Thaksin entered politics in 1994, when he was 45, and became prime minister in 2001 at the age of 52 after his Thai Rak Thai Party won a landslide electoral victory. The win was credited to Thaksin’s clever marketing strategy and his party’s army of experts from various fields.
It is yet to be seen if Thanathorn and his party could see the same level of success enjoyed by Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai.