Thai opposition leader Thanathorn says protests possible as tension climbs

In a photo taken on Nov 20, 2019, Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit greets supporters after the constitutional court hearing in Bangkok. PHOTO: AFP

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

A flash-point could come if the party is dissolved by judges next month, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit signalled in a briefing late Monday (Dec 2).

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. But many think otherwise. I'm not convinced. I think this is a very dangerous gamble."

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.

Thanathorn said he has no control over the timing of protests, while adding the "anger of the people is real" and that an anti-government demonstration expected next month - in the form of a run - will be a test of sentiment toward 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. Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a spokesman for the alliance's biggest party, Palang Pracharath, couldn't immediately be reached late Monday outside normal business hours for comment on Thanathorn's briefing.

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 didn't spark unrest, but bloody street clashes occurred in the past when another Thaksin-linked party was disbanded.

Thanathorn said he doesn't support violence. He also said tension is rising and that a "storm" might be coming.

"I look at my role as a chain breaker," he said. "To break the chain that's preventing us from achieving further."

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