Thanathorn gives up parliament roles

Thanathorn gives up parliament roles

Future Forward leader cites need to be 'with the people', campaign for key bills

Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit reviews the fiscal 2020 budget bill at Parliament in Bangkok on Oct 24. (Photo by Pornprom Sattrabhaya)
Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit reviews the fiscal 2020 budget bill at Parliament in Bangkok on Oct 24. (Photo by Pornprom Sattrabhaya)

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has resigned from the House's extraordinary committee on the budget bill, a day after he was viewed as ruffling some feathers by making inquiries about the armed forces' off-budget funds.

In his resignation letter, the Future Forward Party leader wrote he would resign from the panel, effective on Saturday. He thanked the committee's chairman and members and said he would not accept any compensation. He did not give any reason for his resignation.

Mr Thanathorn told a briefing later that the decision was prompted by last week's "political volatility", apparently referring to the Constitutional Court's ruling to disqualify him as an MP for having media shares while applying to run for office.

"I resigned from the committee to be back with the people. Since they don't want to see me in Parliament, I won't be in Parliament. Since they don't want me in Parliament, I'll return to the people," he said.

"I believe change will happen only when people stand tall and refuse to bow to dictatorship ... when they no longer tolerate suppression."

When asked by reporters who he meant by "they", he said: "You know who."

In a Facebook Live session on Friday night, Mr Thanathorn said he would from now spend his time campaigning for bills his party had submitted to Parliament.

They are the bills to repeal 27 orders and annoucements issued by the National Council for Peace and Order, a labour protection bill and a military service bill, which seeks to replace the military draft with voluntary enlistment.

He said secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul had already done a very good job for the party in the House and his own time would be better spent creating new "political space" to fight injustice.

Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a spokesman of the coalition leading Palang Pracharath Party, said on Saturday that Mr Thanathorn's reasons rang hollow.

"Things went smoothly in the committee, which works until late at night. He must be exhausted and [resigning] shows he's not responsible for the people," he said.

Mr Thanakorn added he felt uncomfortable to hear Mr Thanathorn was preparing to rouse people nationwide as if he was planning to stir conflicts.

"We don't want to see people back on the streets. ... I'd like him to think about the country and people. Look at the damage done to Hong Kong. Thai people won't allow it to happen because the country is peaceful now."

Sharing his view was Nipit Intarasombat, a deputy leader of the Democrat Party, one of the coalition parties.

In his Facebook post, Mr Nipit wrote he was one of those who had defended Mr Thanathorn's right to sit on the committee while being suspended from MP duty.

"But the reason he gave for resigning shows he acted irresponsibly. Being a member of the budget bill committee requires a lot of work. One has to study hard, work hard and be patient. By abandoning a position like this, he's proved he is not responsible for the people. Don't cite people as the reason to deceive them," he wrote, while challenging Mr Thanathorn to sue him.

Ruffling feathers

Mr Thanathorn's surprise decision came a day after he did what no politician before him had ever done — attempting to not only mention but scrutinise defence non-budgetary funds.   

Non-budgetary funds are money earned or held by government agencies which do not appear in the central budget. Spending the funds is therefore at the discretion of the chiefs of those agencies.  

In a Facebook live session on Friday evening, Mr Thanathorn said defence non-budgetary funds totalled 18.7 billion baht, equalling the budgets of the tourism, commerce and digital economy ministries combined. The same amount could be used to upgrade the Bangkok-Hua Hin railway to a double-track line, or to hand out a 300-baht monthly allowance to 5 million children up to age 6, he said.

Some of the funds came from radio and TV frequencies under the control of the armed forces. Channel 7 TV has been run under a concession awarded to an operator since 1969 while Channel 5 is directly owned and operated by the army, he said.

Several radio frequencies have also been rented out to companies.

Some of the funds came from operating horse race tracks, boxing rings or golf courses, none of which are listed as the ministry's missions, he added.

Mr Thanathorn asked the representatives of the defence ministry who testified before the panel about details of these businesses since no one knew how much was earned or how the money was spent.

Mr Thanathorn said he dreamed of this money being used to build dams or for water management.

He insisted he did not want these businesses scrapped — he only wanted details and transparency so the panel could decide what to do with the budget, and if and how it should be reallocated.

He said the panel had already sent a written request for details of the funds. 

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