'Flash mob' leaves FFP with work to do
There were as many bystanders as party supporters among the few thousand people who converged in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and the Pathumwan skywalk on Saturday evening where the Future Forward Party (FFP) held its "flash mob" to test public response to its call for justice for the party after the Election Commission (EC) last week asked the Constitutional Court to dissolve the party over a 191-million-baht "loan" to the party by its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
I was there to observe the event. Surprise! I thought I would see many young faces, students in particular, the main target group of the party. Instead, many of the people there, both the supporters and the bystanders, were working adults and the middle-aged -- the same old faces who made up the bulk of the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters. They were definitely not the type who attended a concert which was held at the same spot a few hours earlier.
So where have all the young people gone? The target group that the FFP has been courting over the past several months through its party leader's campus visits and speeches were in the minority. Most were seen loitering at the nearby shopping malls just a stone's throw away.
The crowd was bigger than the one at a gathering at JJ Mall when the party held its "Yoo Mai Pen" (People who don't just go with the flow) campaign last month, which was a flop. It was an encouraging start because of the location, Siam Square which is normally a busy shopping and entertainment hub, and also the right timing, a Saturday when working people have a day off.
The crowd would have been much smaller if it had been held somewhere far from a busy thoroughfare like Siam Square.
Anyhow, Saturday's turnout should be a morale booster for the FFP, but it was still far short of the numbers needed to make the societal changes that the party envisions. Or to shake the government's stability, although it may be a wake-up call to the government to come up with measures to pre-empt the "Next Big Thing". Taking the mob to the streets next month as threatened by Mr Thanathorn is too hasty, foolhardy and risks a backlash from the public and the government.
What was Mr Thanathorn thinking when he said at a panel discussion that there would not be major changes to the constitution without the government being changed first? Mass protests to force the overthrow of the government? But wait. Go back to study the twists of Thai political history first and you will find one undeniable truth -- that a government can only be abruptly changed through the barrel of a gun or a coup by the military. That the PDRC mass protest over five years ago lasted several months and managed to shut down the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra but could not force it to step down is a clear example of the limitations of a protest by people in confrontation with a stubborn government.
The party should focus on defending itself in the several cases still pending with the EC and the Constitutional Court and avoid making more mistakes.
Belatedly, the party has strengthened its legal team to fight the pending cases.
Had it done this several months earlier instead of relying on Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the party secretary-general and former law professor who has no real experience as a lawyer like a commanding general who has never had any combat experience, the party would not have found itself in the predicament it is facing today.
The charter-mandated laws like the Political Party Act and the MPs Election Act were in place before the FFP was founded. It is true that the laws are distorted, unjust and badly in need of being overhauled, such as the provisions regarding party dissolution for offences committed by party executives -- electoral cheating and vote-buying, for example -- instead of serious offences that threaten national security.
The FFP chose to blame the laws, the system, the EC, the court and almost everything associated with the military junta for the misfortunes which have befallen the party and its leader, Mr Thanathorn. So, why are the other opposition parties are not caught in the same predicament?
Because the FFP was specially targeted because it poses a greater and more immediate threat to the establishment for its radical ideals?
Or because of its own oversight or overconfidence in the legal expertise of the party's former law professor in the reading of the laws? For an average man with common sense, if he has doubts about a doctor's diagnosis of his sickness, he will seek a second or third opinion for safety's sake.
That is why the party decided to double its number of legal advisors, albeit belatedly.
From the faces I saw in the crowd at the rally on Saturday -- the working adults, the middle-aged and the elderly -- I know that they are not the type who are easily fooled or misled.
Be wiser and a bit more patient. At least, there is homework for the party to do after Saturday's "flash mob". What happened to the young people? Why didn't they turn out to respond to the party's call?
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.