Demonisation of FFP looks so familiar
As Vietnam has emerged as a Southeast Asian winner of the US-Sino trade war, Thailand's economic downturn is expected to worsen this year.
An already volatile political environment will also become messier, less predictable and possibly less attractive to foreign investment, with a dissolution case against the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP), which the Constitutional Court rules on Tuesday, likely to draw international attention.
As the FFP's fate hangs in the balance, "what's next?" has become a catch-phrase among the media and political observers on the future of the party's MPs and other members.
Many wonder which party they will move to and whether a dissolution ruling will result in resentment among its supporters.
But what is more worrying is how this case will become another setback for the country's political maturity-- an aspirational state in which leftist and rightist thought tendencies can co-exist and assimilate, the rule of law is universally upheld and the justice system is mutually respected. It is just my own, non-academic thinking of how political maturity should be.
Over the weekend, FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said the string of allegations against the party by Natthaporn Toprayoon, a lawyer and former adviser to the Ombudsman, which form the basis of the court case, are just an effort to pull together loose fragments of what he and party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit have said, along with the party's policy platforms, woven into a new story making the case that the party was trying to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.
Mr Natthaporn also linked the FFP's logo design to the Illuminati, a mythical group that conspiracy theorists believe pulls strings on behalf of shadowy forces all over the world.
Given the apparent absurd and loose nature of the allegations, few expected them to serve as a legal case which could bring about an end to the FFP, which represents more than 6 million voters. Few also expected any probability of wrongdoing, as alleged and casually perceived by one person, could land the party into trouble.
Yesterday, deputy Thammasat University rector Prinya Thaewanarumitkul raised this point in a Facebook post.
Dissolution of a party is comparable to a death sentence, and so if the Constitutional Court is to rule in favour of the complainant, its decision should not be based on perceived probabilities of alleged wrongdoings, he said.
Any accusation that one party may have a tendency towards overthrowing the ruling system should not lead to its dissolution, he added.
Mr Prinya is not the first to make such an observation. And this case against the FFP is also not the first of its kind. It is part of the power struggle in recent years in which legal channels have been mainly used against the "leftist" political camp.
Since the 2006 coup that ousted then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's political development has been anything but mature.
When I reported on investigations into corruption cases against Thaksin and his regime during the post-2006 coup era, I was baffled by allegations which did not amount to outright "corruption" but rather misguided or unorthodox policies of his government.
In the same period, there have also been three cases that sought the dissolution of three parties allied with Thaksin's camp.
Like the recent case against the FFP, the rulings on those cases were disputed by many legal experts as much as they were accepted by those who disapprove of Thaksin and his political establishment.
The dissolution of these parties has not brought an end to the political turmoil. Instead, it ensured this political camp remained popular among voters.
The FFP dissolution case itself also reflects a larger effort to demonise the party and its key leaders for posing a threat to the constitutional monarchy, the country's embedded norms, traditions and values.
Such accusations are pretty much similar to those made as part of state propaganda against student activists in the lead up to the Oct 6, 1976 massacre of activists at Thammasat University.
The demonisation of the FFP started ahead of the general election last year and carries on.
Two former Democrats politicians, Suthep Thaugsuban and Warong Dechgitvigrom, have taken this campaign to the next level, holding talking trips across the country accusing Mr Thanathorn of being the new devil (with the old devil being understood to be Thaksin) and leader of what they call "the hate-the-nation cult".
For the sake of freedom of speech, their campaign must be tolerated. But trying to use similar elements as key parts of a dissolution case that will put an end to a party is wishful thinking.
Granted, there are people who disapprove or feel uncomfortable with the FFP's policy platforms or ideologies.
But they need to tolerate different views as well, instead of trying to exploit legal channels to eliminate their political rivals.
Even if the FFP is dissolved and its members move to a new party, history speaks for itself that the political witch hunt will not come to an end. Anyone can find a reason to seek dissolution of the party.
The vicious circle of demonisation of one political camp will be carried on.
Thailand's potential in the economic and social sphere over past decades has been bogged down by its lack of political maturity.
Maybe it is time for those "rightists" who cannot tolerate the rise of their political rivals to grow up.
Surasak Glahan is deputy op-ed pages editor of the Bangkok Post.
Deputy Op-ed Editor
Surasak Glahan is deputy op-ed pages editor, Bangkok Post.