Maverick Thai entered Thailand’s political bear-pit, courting the youth vote

Vastavam web: A 39-year-old business tycoon entered Thailand’s political bear-pit today with the launch of a new progressive party, courting the youth vote in a kingdom plagued by coups and corruption.Dubbed “Future Forward”, the party was born out of a late night conversation three months ago between Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who helps lead Thailand’s biggest auto-parts maker, and a young law professor Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.They are now among dozens of new groups that have signed up in a party registration drive this month, ahead of elections the ruling junta has promised for early 2019.

But their party in particular has dominated the talk of the town for weeks, with Thanathorn’s deep pockets, youthful looks and liberal values whipping the kingdom’s pro-democracy community into a froth of excitement.Repeated military coups have further undermined Thailand’s democracy, with the current junta banning all politics since its 2014 takeover.

With a resume ranging from left-wing student activism to ultra-marathons and helming his family’s auto parts empire, Thanathorn says he is qualified to lead the country to a more democratic future.”I don’t want my kids and the people of the new generation to have to face a coup d’etat every decade,” said the father of three, who has seen four putsch attempts in his lifetime.

The young businessman has already attracted comparisons to other “outsider” politicians making waves around the globe, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron.Thaksin’s faction bills itself as a pro-democracy movement that has fallen victim to a conservative army-allied elite which keeps booting their elected governments from office.Yet the political network has also drawn criticism for graft and prizing personal loyalty to Thaksin above the wider democratic cause.

That has left young, left-wing Thais with nowhere to turn, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an exiled professor and prominent junta critic.He must contend with both a military that has the power to sideline foes and established parties who have cemented voting networks across the country through years of politicking and patronage.There is also the danger of lawsuits, which are routinely wielded as political weapons in Thailand.