Giles Ji Ungpakorn
All Thai mainstream political parties in the past have had rich businessmen or military generals heading the party. Many have retired military officers in leadership positions. At the general meeting of the Future Forward Party a few weeks ago, the executive committee members of the party were elected.
Not surprisingly, business tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was elected as leader of the party and former academic Piyabutr Saengkanokkul was elected as secretary general. Among the executive committee were two other business people, a number of academics and a couple of NGO activists. One of the NGO activists specialises in labour issues. Most of these people have a track record of holding anti-dictatorship views. However, without a serious attempt to build a pro-democracy social movement outside parliament, all talk about scrapping the military constitution and erasing the legacy of dictatorship will just be hot air.
What is worrying is that one of the deputy leaders of the party is retired Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo, a former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council. He was removed from office by Generalissimo Prayut after the coup. But his association with the NSC is worrying because all former governments, especially military juntas, have always stressed “national security” over freedom and democracy.
Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo wrote a recent column in a national newspaper about Patani. He said that what was needed was a softer approach by the state, without human rights abuses. But he never mentioned the right to self-determination for the people of Patani, a need to prosecute state officials who had ordered the murdering of Malay Muslims, nor the fact that negotiations between the state and freedom fighters ought to be a civilian matter, rather than being led by the military. His position is the same as the “doves” in the Thai military. It affirms that the Thai nation state cannot grant independence or be divided. This is different from initial comments from a Future Forward Party member some months ago about the need for autonomy in Patani.
From the makeup of the executive committee, one can see that this is no “grass roots” party of the 99% as there are no real representatives of organised labour or small farmers. It is a middle-class party for the middle-class which supports the free-market.
To be fair to them, none of the party activists apart from Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, ever claimed that the party would be a party of the working class and small farmers, who make up the vast majority of the population. But Piyabutr and another academic made erratic claims comparing the party to the new left parties in Europe.
Of course, we can only guess what the party’s policies will be from the makeup of the executive committee and from what some of the leaders have said. However, if the party’s manifesto does not include the need for a welfare state funded through high taxes on the rich and businesses, a commitment to repeal the lèse majesté law, a commitment to the right to choose to have free and safe abortions, a commitment to raise the minimum wage according to demands of the unions and to rewrite the labour laws which restrict the actions of unions, and a commitment to self-determination for the people of Patani, the party will merely be a mainstream, neo-liberal, anti-military party.
There is still an urgent need to build a left-wing political party of the working class and peasantry.