Thanathorn sets eye on premier's job

Thanathorn sets eye on premier's job

Young scion chosen as Future Forward leader

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (centre) and supporters  hold up their mobile phone flashlights to symbolise a bright political future, after Anakhot Mai (Future Forward) Party members selected him as party leader at a meeting Sunday at Thammasat University's Rangsit campus. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (centre) and supporters hold up their mobile phone flashlights to symbolise a bright political future, after Anakhot Mai (Future Forward) Party members selected him as party leader at a meeting Sunday at Thammasat University's Rangsit campus. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

Newly selected Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has confirmed he is aiming for the post of prime minister in the upcoming general election.

One of the heirs to Thailand's biggest autoparts conglomerate, Mr Thanathorn made the announcement at a press conference after a meeting at Thammasat University's Rangsit campus Sunday.

The event was held to allow registered members to vote for an official 17-member executive committee to oversee the party's overall processes.

Mr Thanathorn was announced as the official leader of the Future Forward party -- also known as the Anakhot Mai Party -- after a unanimous vote in which 473 out of 474 votes favoured Mr Thanathorn. The only vote uncounted was his own.

When asked by reporters if he will assume the post of Future Forward's main PM candidate, he replied, "In this case [that I am now the party's leader], there isn't any other option, is there?"

The party has voiced strong opposition against the appointment of an "outsider PM" since it was unveiled in March. One of its main policies is not involving itself in so-called "non-democratic procedures", such as someone outside the party assuming the prime minister's position.

"In the event of a win, we won't nominate anyone outside [the party] to be prime minister. We want to make sure our policies can be implemented correctly," Mr Thanathorn said.

He said the last thing he would do is something that would "betray his ambitions".

He said his main ambition is to return true democracy to the country and reduce social inequality.

Critics have said the party looks like a successor to the Pheu Thai Party, but with a more alternative approach which is likely to include more young talent than "old faces".

The Election Commission, the main body responsible for registering political parties, has yet to return registration papers to the new parties within the 30 days promised.

Future Forward's meeting Sunday was allowed after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) last month approved 13 newly registered parties to conduct meetings. The Future Forward Party was among them.

Other similar meetings include one held by the New Palangdharma party on May 14, headed by former secretary-general of the now-defunct Palang Dharma Party Rawee Machamadon.

According to Future Forward staff, around 2,000 people attended Sunday's meeting, including non-voting supporters who surrounded the event's main stage.

The party had 26 founding members in March, 16 of whom are currently under the age of 30.

The 17 members of the party's new executive include deputy leader Kunthida Rungruengkiat, an independent academic and an education activist who works closely with the Finnish embassy.

Ms Kunthida received 466 votes for the role with the remaining eight members choosing not to vote.

Thammasat University law lecturer Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, another founder, was elected secretary-general, in a move predicted by many watching academics and pundits.

The former key member of the progressive Nitirat group received 472 votes.

Nitirat is an active coalition of progressive-minded law academics who aim to amend the constitution, with an emphasis on Section 112, also known as the lese majeste law.

It states those who insult or defame the monarchy will be punished with a prison sentence of three to 15 years.

Mr Piyabutr had earlier resigned from the lawyers' group, after denying multiple times the party's views will reflect those of Nitirat.

"It must be noted that we are not an official political party as of yet," he said, after being asked about campaign plans.

"Due to legal reasons, we are not able to engage in political activities. We will continue to urge the NCPO to let parties move as soon as possible, in light of upcoming elections.

"The longer they prolong the elections, the more time Future Forward will have time to establish a strong foundation," Mr Piyabutr added.

While political parties are currently not allowed to campaign, the new secretary-general announced Sunday the party will source income from crowdfunding to ensure it "belongs to the public".

A minimum of 350 million baht is needed for the party to conduct strong campaigns, he said.

Future Forward officials -- including leader Mr Thanathorn -- will travel nationwide to expand the party's supporter base and ask for donations.

"We want to make sure that our efforts will not stop after these elections. Political policies must be longstanding and well thought out to ensure they return positive outcomes," Mr Piyabutr said.

"As of now, no parties are allowed to publicise their presence, but the current prime minister is able to travel to any province he pleases."

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha earlier announced a general election will be held next February.

Mr Thanathorn said he will step down from his position as executive vice-president of Thai Summit Group once an exact election date is set. His younger brother Sakulthorn is expected to take his place.


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