Thai billionaire forms new political party to woo younger voters

Thai billionaire forms new political party to woo younger voters

With his youthful looks and reputation as the scion of Thailand's biggest autoparts group, 39-year-old Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has created a lot of buzz online in the past few weeks, amid rumours that he was going to set up a new political party. 

BANGKOK: With his youthful looks and reputation as the scion of Thailand's biggest autoparts group, 39-year-old Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has created a lot of buzz online in the past few weeks, amid rumours that he was going to set up a new political party. 

On Thursday (Mar 15), he officially launched the party called Anakot Mai, or Future Forward Party. 

Branding itself in a distinct orange triangle logo pointing forward, the party wants to be a new progressive political alternative, speaking to a younger generation disillusioned by a political divide.

Thailand's Future Forward Party
A supporter holds a leaflet with the logo of new Thai political party Future Forward. (Photo: AFP/LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA)

The party's 27 founding members are - for Thai standards - a very progressive group of mostly young academics, entrepreneurs and activists who cover a wide range of issues such as the environment, welfare and rights for women, the disabled as well as LGBT people.

Thanathorn, executive vice president and director of the Thai Summit Group, was himself a social activist in his younger days. His uncle Suriya held several Cabinet positions under former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was toppled by a military coup in 2006. 

Some might be tempted to draw parallels between Thaksin and Thanathorn, as they are both wealthy businessmen who got into politics. 

But the co-founder of the Forward Future Party wants people to focus on what lies ahead.

"Give democracy a chance," he told Channel NewsAsia. "And have faith in the parliamentary system."

"We don't need governance through guns," he said in Thai at the launch of his party in Bangkok, referring to the ruling military which took power in 2014.

COUNTRY OVER COMPANY

Before making the monumental decision, Thanathorn revealed that he needed to consult the most important person in his life - his mother.

"When my mother asked me whether the company or the country is more important, I replied without hesitation ... country," wrote Thanathorn in a Facebook post over the weekend.

"Now I have the strongest backing and the most wonderful blessing in the world; my family," he added. The Facebook post was liked more than 5,500 times and shared more than 650 times.

His Facebook post following the launch of his political party garnered more than 6,500 likes and 850 shares.

While using Facebook as a political communication tool is not new, it is the prospect of young blood entering Thai politics that has got people excited.

The big question going forward is how this new party will reach out to and win over as many people as they can, in as many places as they can. While it is one thing to gain a following online, it’s a different matter when it comes to translating that support into votes.

It will be especially hard in places where the established parties already have a strong foothold. The north and northeast, for instance, are the main voter bases of the Pheu Thai Party, one of Thaksin’s reincarnations. The south, on the other hand, is firmly in the hands of Pheu Thai's main rival, the Democrat Party.

Thanathorn's Future Forward Party did not list any policies because formal political campaigning is still banned. In fact, their launch event was labelled as an "informal get-together over coffee". 

The Thai military government has repeatedly delayed a general election, with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha promising last month that polls will be held "no later" than February 2019. 

Source: CNA/Agencies/zl

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