Thai opposition head warns of protests if system resists change

BANGKOK • Thailand could see street protests again if establishment forces continue to resist democratic change, according to the leader of the Future Forward Party, the nation's most high-profile opposition party.

A flash point could come if the party is dissolved by judges next month, its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said in a briefing late on Monday. Future Forward and some of its officials face more than two dozen cases, stemming from the police, the attorney-general, the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission, he said.

"The establishment are pushing people out," he said in Bangkok. "They seem certain they could contain it and control it...I'm not convinced. I think this is a very dangerous gamble," he added.

Mr Thanathorn, a critic of the royalist establishment's grip on power, opposes military influence in government in a country with a history of coups. He was barred from Parliament in a court ruling last month for breaching media shareholding rules, accusations he said were politically motivated.

He said he has no control over the timing of protests, while adding that the "anger of the people is real" and that an anti-government demonstration expected next month will be a test of sentiment towards the ruling coalition.

South-east Asia's second-largest economy held a disputed general election in March after almost five years of military rule.

A pro-military coalition led by former junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha took office in July with a razor-thin majority.

Mr Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a spokesman for the alliance's biggest party, Palang Pracharath, yesterday said he disagreed with Mr Thanathorn.

"He should respect the justice system. Nobody knows how these legal cases will play out," he said. "The majority of people don't want to see street protests again."

After the election, Future Forward emerged as the third-largest party and became part of an opposition bloc that controls almost half the Lower House of Parliament.

The deeply divided Parliament and the government's slim majority have put the spotlight on political risk in Thailand, where officials are straining to revive a struggling economy.

The administration managed to get the annual budget Bill through an initial parliamentary vote in October, with more due in January. Analysts remain split on whether the coalition will survive future tests.

Judges dissolved a party opposed to military rule in the run-up to the election. The party, Thai Raksa Chart, was linked to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The dissolution did not spark unrest, but bloody street clashes took place in the past when another Thaksin-linked party was disbanded.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2019, with the headline 'Thai opposition head warns of protests if system resists change'. Print Edition | Subscribe