Fri, Mar 16, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Thai auto heir launches political party

NEW LEADER?Comparisons have been drawn between former Thai primer minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Thanathorn, whose uncle was an official in Thaksin’s party

Reuters, BANGKOK

A scion of Thailand’s biggest auto parts group yesterday launched a new political party in Bangkok as an alternative to established parties, promising to bridge a festering political divide in the country.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 39, who serves as the executive vice president and director of Thai Summit Group, an auto parts maker, launched the Future Forward Party in Bangkok’s up-and-coming Chinatown neighborhood.

Thanathorn said he hoped to appeal to younger voters and disenfranchised citizens.

“Give democracy a chance,” he said in English at the launch.

“We don’t need governance through guns,” he added in Thai, referring to the ruling military, which took power in 2014.

The launch came two weeks after the Thai Election Commission opened registration for new political parties, one of the first signs of a halting return to democracy.

Thailand has been under military rule since a 2014 coup toppled an elected government.

Since the coup, the generals running Thailand have banned political activity. They have also repeatedly delayed a general election, with the latest date set for February next year.

The country has been largely divided since a 2006 coup against then-Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a businessman turned politician who gained a loyal following among rural voters, but made many enemies among the military-royalist elite.

Following a period of democracy, the military again intervened in 2014 to topple a civilian government led by Thaksin’s sister, then-Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Critics of the junta have said that it has failed to deliver on its promises and that political divisions remain steadfast.

Growing impatience with the junta has been manifest in protests calling for a quick return to democracy.

The demonstrations come as 63-year-old Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, appears to be undertaking his own campaign to stay on as prime minister.

Thanathorn, whose family also has a major stake in Matichon, which publishes newspapers, resigned from Matichon’s’ board on Wednesday. but remains on the board of Thai Summit, a privately held company.

However, some have questioned the family’s ties to Thaksin.

Thanathorn’s uncle, Suriya Juangroongruangkit, held various senior positions in Thaksin’s now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party.

Thanathorn, who has been described by some as the “next Thaksin,” said he did not side with any existing group.

“We have our own stance,” he said.

He did not list his party’s policies, because formal political campaigning is still banned by the junta, but said he hopes to attract “ordinary people” to support the party.

“People who are not famous ... but who want to shape our country’s future together,” Thanathorn said.

He introduced other party cofounders, including a filmmaker and a number of activists involved in environmental and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender causes, among other issues.

Party cofounder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law lecturer at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, said the party hopes to transcend Thailand’s political divide, a sentiment echoed by student-led groups that have held anti-junta protests across Bangkok in recent weeks.

However, some said the party might find it difficult to appeal to grassroots voters.

“Will they, academics and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] ... be able to connect with grassroots people, which is a large part of the electoral base,” one person asked on Twitter.

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