BANGKOK - The remaining 55 MPs of Thailand's now-defunct Future Forward Party launched a new group - Move Forward - on Sunday (March 8), two weeks after the original party's dissolution.
"We will register the new party next week. The meeting has voted for me as the interim leader of the MPs," Mr Pita Limjaroenrat, 38, the leader of the group, told a briefing.
Mr Pita vowed to continue the work of Future Forward but without involving its former leaders: "The principles (of Future Forward) will not change, but it will be our own journey and our own decisions.
"We will still work against the extended power of the junta. After all, these are our common goals from the beginning."
Move Forward will continue to push five Bills proposed by Future Forward, Mr Pita added.
These relate to the revocation of 17 orders by the military junta in power from the 2014 coup until the first half of last year, revisions to labour laws, an end to conscription and to monopoly in the liquor industry and the clean air act.
Working groups will be set up to tackle pressing issues such as a weak economy and the coronavirus outbreak. Thailand has reported 50 confirmed cases and one death.
The economy is of deep concern after GDP grew 2.4 per cent last year - the slowest pace in five years.
The new party's launch came just over two weeks after Future Forward, the second biggest opposition group, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court over former leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit's loans to the party.
The move also banned 11 MPs who were party executives from politics for 10 years. The remaining MPs must seek membership in other parties within 60 days.
Nine MPs defected to a government coalition party a few days after the dissolution.
Mr Pita said he is confident all remaining MPs will stand united: "We will be a leaner party. But our quality will not decrease."
Even with 55 MPs, the party, once it is officially registered, will be the second-largest opposition group in Parliament.
Thailand has a track record of opposition parties being dissolved but Mr Pita said he was not concerned that this could happen to the new party. He said: "I have a strong team behind me. We have learnt our lessons."
In March last year, Thai Raksa Chart Party, which was linked to Pheu Thai, the biggest opposition party, was dissolved by the same court for nominating the Thai King's sister, Princess Ubolratana, as its prime ministerial candidate.
It remains to be seen if Move Forward will win the same level of voter support Future Forward enjoyed.
"It is undeniable that Mr Pita will still need to rely on the reputation of Mr Thanathorn and Mr Piyabutr (Saengkanokkul), while transiting from the first generation to the second one," said Assistant Professor Wanwichit Boonprong, a political scientist at Rangsit University, referring to former Future Forward party leader and secretary-general, who have been disqualified and banned from politics.
Future Forward quickly gained popularity among young people for its anti-junta stance and promotion of transparency and progressive issues after being formed in 2018. It won 81 seats in last year's general election, even though none of its members had run for office before.
With the future being uncertain, Prof Wanwichit believes Move Forward will survive and receive support, particularly since the government is suffering from "a crisis of faith" in the light of the worsening economy and criticisms of its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The government has been plagued by complaints about the shortage of masks and mixed messages about the quarantine of people travelling from high-risk countries.
The opposition now controls 215 seats in Parliament and the ruling coalition headed by former junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has 273.