FFP demise adds fuel to political fire

FFP demise adds fuel to political fire

FFP supporters gather in front of the Thai Summit Tower in Bangkok following the party's disbandment. NATTHAWAT WICHIEANBUT
FFP supporters gather in front of the Thai Summit Tower in Bangkok following the party's disbandment. NATTHAWAT WICHIEANBUT

I remember how my two friends reacted when they learnt about the Constitutional Court ruling on Friday, which disbanded the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP) and stripped its executives of their political rights.

They were stunned, their eyes wide in disbelief. Their hearts sunk, like all hope was lost. Disappointment coursed through their words, followed by a long silence.

The case stemmed from a petition by the Election Commission (EC) and centres around a 191.2-million-baht loan the party took from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The EC alleged the FFP breached Section 72 of the 2017 Political Parties Act, which prohibits parties from accepting funding from illegal sources.

The court ruled the loan was "an illegitimate source" of funding. The reason given was the party had "an intention" to borrow money as an attempt to avoid the law that limits donations to parties at 10 million baht per donor per year.

By lending such a large amount, said the judge, the lender can influence the party's direction, which goes against democratic principles.

We all know many other parties have used loans as a means to fund their activities. This is mainly because the previous military junta did not lift its political ban -- imposed since the 2014 coup -- until December 2018, leaving parties little time to raise funds prior to the March 2019 general election. It's also known that many parties received funding from unidentified sources, and in many cases, without any records.

But the FFP was the only party disbanded for borrowing money, even though it was also the only party which publicly clarified the source of the loan. The justice system rewarded the FFP's transparency with the death knell that has left many of us stunned.

For many us ordinary people who wish for the best of this country, the Constitutional Court judges reading out the verdict live was another historical moment feeding into Thailand's political uncertainty.

Soon, we will reach the first anniversary of the March 24 poll -- our first election in eight years and the first after five years of rule by the military junta, led by the current Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Since military rule, we have experienced more intense power abuses, injustice and double standards in the legal system than ever -- from systematic election manipulations to the military's clientelism (on which pro-military MPs and military-appointed senators have relied and benefited), to the government's ignorance of assaults on democracy activists.

These incidents have re-emphasised the need for true democracy in this current state of political uncertainty. We can't rely on our current leaders to secure our future, as they are products of a flawed and broken democratic system whose only priority is to maintain the status quo. We need to fix the system with our own hands through the MPs and parties we elected.

In recent years, disappointment and resentment have been part of our daily lives. Privileges enjoyed by the military and their supporters, coupled with their poor treatment of "people with different opinions" regularly manifest right in front of us.

After the 2014 coup, the military leaders consolidated power and placed high-ranking military officers in cabinet, even though their qualifications have no relation to their appointed positions.

They appointed the now-dissolved National Legislative Assembly and the current senators, with high salaries and associated benefits, to "work for the people". But these people have never defended our rights in parliament.

Lately, we have seen Thai corporations joining the military government's public-private partnership projects, which they claim will improve the people's livelihoods. But such schemes have actually expanded and ensured the corporations' dominance in local markets and enlarged their access to natural resources.

Unsurprisingly, these companies were also listed as major donors which handed out millions of baht to the ruling pro-military Palang Pracharath Party during its fundraising ahead of last year's election.

By contrast, activists and human rights defenders have seen their voices suppressed. Their gatherings have been banned. While many people at the top of the income ladder have praised the government for its "success in maintaining security and prosperity", those living at the bottom can hardly survive the economic hardship.

It was shaping up to be a decade of missed opportunities.

Then the FFP showed up with its bold defiance of the military, promises to fix the system and a strong vision for universal social welfare and greater economic distribution. The party represented the voice of young people and their growing desire for a brighter future for the nation.

This new party offered us meaningful engagement in politics. Our participation mattered, which was why more than six million people gave their votes to the FFP and expected change. But the party and its core members faced many obstacles from the many legal cases launched by the government, and the worst came last week with the dissolution ruling.

The FFP and its young supporters have compared their hunger for change to the demons in Seni Saowapong's 1953 novel which has been frequently quoted recently. These demons, they said, have come to haunt those trapped in the old ideological world.

The "demons" have appeared in the spirits of young people (including my younger brother) who have been criticised by the older generation as the self-centred and ignorant generation.

The dissolution of the FFP (and other past attempts by the powers-that-be to disrupt any efforts to change the status quo), have pushed these young people to question the increasingly obvious and unbearable unfairness and injustice embedded in our political and juridical systems and they have started to engage more in politics.

I believe more of these "demons" will be born.

The silence will not last long. We can't lose hope until we see changes.


Paritta Wangkiat is a Bangkok Post columnist.

Paritta Wangkiat

Columnist

Paritta Wangkiat is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.


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