“THANATHORN from Future Forward? He’s my idol. He’s got great policy ideas. Plus he believes in democracy.”
It’s a Saturday evening in Bangkok’s Ratchathewi District, close to the heart of this ten million-strong metropolis. It’s peak rush hour; traffic is barely moving and the sidewalks teem with pedestrians dashing to the nearest BTS train station as they head home.
Team Ceritalah is sitting with 26-old Teerapon Thetkerd. There is an air of anxiety – of uneasiness – as the city, not to mention the rest of the country, waits for its next General Election.
After four years of military rule, Thais are ready for a return to democracy. Earlier this year, in March, thirty parties submitted their registration papers, including the newly founded Future Forward Party.
In fact, the brand new political party, led by handsome and fresh-faced, 39-year-old billionaire and entrepreneur Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit – whose family owns manufacturing giant Thai Summit Group – was also established that month.
With 700 or so co-founders, it’s a grouping of young academics, entrepreneurs and activists, most of whom are looking to end the military junta’s rule and embark on a series of political and economic reforms.
While small in size, many in Thailand see the party as an alternative third force to the storied Democrat Party (with its southern bailiwick) and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party, which still dominates much of the north and rice-plains of Isaarn.
“I joined Future Forward in June after my friend Sunee invited me to participate. ‘Hey I have a job for you at our call centre, come and help us organise,’ she told me. I wanted to help solve the country’s problems – political problems, social problems...so I joined.”
Born in Chai Nat Province, nearly 200 kilometres to the north of Bangkok, Teerapon’s political awakening took place long beforehand.
“In 2010 I watched live broadcasts on the People’s Television channel of the conflict between the red and yellow shirts. I saw all the violence and I asked myself, ‘Why do these soldiers listen to orders to shoot people like dogs?’ Even in the middle of Bangkok’s streets? So, I decided to work towards changing society.”
In 2011, Teerapon attended Bangkok’s Srinakharinwirot University to study Public Administration. After graduating in 2015, he joined several non-profit organisations, from Greenpeace to Mirror Foundation, mostly working to assist Bangkok’s approximate 3,249 homeless people.
Today, the Future Forward member is focused on raising his party’s profile in the country and Thai awareness of issues he believes to be unjust.
“We really need to put an end to laws like Article 44, which empowers the military government to take any action necessary to ‘strengthen public unity and harmony’. It’s an excuse for the government to do whatever it wants.”
While Teerapon believes elections will take place, many Thais are less optimistic.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam recently stated that polling day could take place as early as 24 February 2019. Still, that’s much later than Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s initial promise for polls in December this year.
However, on 14 September, the ruling junta, the National Council for Peace and Order – decreed in the Royal Gazette that political parties can now organise, albeit on a limited basis, thereby partially lifting a ban on all political activity since taking power in 2014.
“It’s a positive step for us. We can do more now.”
Nonetheless before the announcement, Thanathorn was charged in late August for alleged slanderous remarks against the junta in a Facebook post.
“It’s unwarranted. But I’m not scared. It’s time to put an end to this government.”
But only time will tell whether or not Prime Minister Prayut’s military regime will even allow the opportunity for Thais like Teerapon to do so.
Given recent electoral surprises in the Philippines and indeed Malaysia is the Thai military willing to take the risk?
*Follow Karim Raslan on Twitter @fromKMR / Instagram @fromkmr
** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.