Is return of political violence inevitable?

Is return of political violence inevitable?

FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit waves to his supporters during the 'flash mob' at the Skywalk in Pathumwan district. (Bangkok Post photo)
FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit waves to his supporters during the 'flash mob' at the Skywalk in Pathumwan district. (Bangkok Post photo)

The powers that be should not underestimate the "flash mob", the first street protest since the March 24 elections, organised last week by the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP). On the surface, the incident may stem from the resentment of FFP and its supporters over the Election Commission's (EC) move to have the new party dissolved, but it cannot be denied there are also many elements that echo dismay with the coup and subsequent election.

FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit called for supporters to show up on Pathumwan Skywalk after the EC filed the case involving his 191-million-baht loan to the party to finance the election campaign, which it alleged violated the law on political parties, to the Constitutional Court.

The court is to decide this month whether it will accept the case. But most observers, even the FFP, believe that it will and it is quite clear that the fate of the party is already sealed. For many, the court's expected stance has much to do with the fact that it was appointed by the military regime.

I'd say chances are high that the country will see "orange-shirted" protesters gathering again on city streets next month when the court wraps up the FFP dissolution case. Mr Thanathorn has declared that he will not tolerate it if his party is disbanded and he will take the fight over the "injustice" by the regime's mechanisation beyond parliamentary walls.

If this comes to pass, the political temperature will certainly rise once more.

It's true that members of the FFP can survive by moving to other parties within 60 days of a dissolution, but the FFP as a movement will be weakened, especially when taking into consideration that the party's board members, in particular Mr Thanathorn, but also Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Pannika Wanich, could be hit with 10-year bans from politics.

For those who doubt whether Mr Thanathorn can mobilise the masses next year, I would say he can. But whether the FFP-led demonstrations can gather enough steam to overthrow the Prayut Chan-o-cha government depends on how the prime minister and the powers that be react to the situation.

Don't forget that the FFP has a wide political base, with backing from 6.2 million voters across the country. They include the young, with modern political ideologies, as well as red-shirted opponents of the military who were dismayed with the Prayut-led coup that ousted the Pheu Thai administration in 2014.

Needless to say, the dissolution of the FFP will trigger a harsh reaction from its supporters who view the penalties against Mr Thanathorn and his party as politically motivated. The disproportionate overreaction by the EC is far too severe for the wrong the tycoon-turned-politician allegedly committed.

In addition, even though it may seem that Mr Thanathorn solicited the street protests for his own benefit over the loan and V-Luck share cases, it is well realised that the two controversial cases have been blown up for political reasons with those in power wanting to get rid of their political opponents through the use of a flawed charter sponsored by the military regime.

Public frustration surged in the wake of election results which saw the Pheu Thai Party, the winner in terms of seats, missing the chance to form a government due to distorted election rules.

However, while it remains uncertain whether the FFP-led demonstrations can trigger political upheaval, it's the government's performance, and how it tackles graft and misconduct among its own coalition partners, that will decide its fate. Don't forget that rifts have been a major problem for the Prayut government since it began the coalition-forming process.

It's safe to say that the coalition had no honeymoon period as the fight for cabinet seats, in particular at the top ministries, was fierce from the very beginning of its tenure. Not only that, but its razor-thin majority has caused the government to resort to political tricks -- rewards for so-called cobra politicians, for example, to win key votes in parliament.

If the rift within the coalition expands, while corruption or abuse of power becomes rampant, the government may lose legitimacy sooner rather than later as members of the public turn to support the opposition, giving them the momentum to oust the government.

However, if the FFP goes ahead with "orange-shirted" demonstrations, there could be violent confrontations.

One fact that favours the government is that city people are fed up with the colour-coded confrontations that not only caused losses of lives and property but also put the country in stagnation for more than two decades. This is why some people endorsed the coup led by Gen Prayut and allowed him to remain in power for almost six years. I believe if the prime minister can solve economic problems, people will not mind if he stays on.

Therefore, if Mr Thanathorn pushes for street politics, even though FFP members can move to other parties, he may be accused of not respecting parliamentary principles.

A lesson that the FFP should learn from the yellow- and red-shirted confrontations, as well as the PDRC shutdown, is that further deaths and damage may give men in green an excuse for another coup.

Confrontations could emerge anytime between anti-coup elements and pro-coup groups, especially those associated with veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban who has kicked off a campaign against the Thanathorn-led move, cashing in on sensitive issues like monarchy, tradition and culture that serve to ignite hate.

Further conflict from political polarisation may be imminent. But this time it could be even more violent.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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