Giles Ji Ungpakorn
In a recent Reuter’s article about the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was compared to France’s Emmanuel Macron [See https://reut.rs/2ugDj39 ]. This seems to make sense since both Macron and Thanathorn claim to be “new blood politicians”. Macron has set his sights on destroying trade union rights and workers’ living standards in France, while Thanathorn has a record of suppressing the Thai Summit union and preventing strike action through a management lock-out. Thanathorn also told Reuters that his policies include business deregulation and he distanced himself from the so-called “populist” policies of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party.
Thanathorn claims that he wants to get rid of business monopolies that have a strangle hold on the economy and he wants to introduce more free-market forces.
In an international context, business deregulation is a right-wing neoliberal agenda to improve corporate profits by cutting back on state regulations which protect workers’ rights, safety and environmental protection. It changes the balance of power, favouring big business at the expense of workers and ordinary citizens. In the Thai context it would be difficult to see how business could be given more power and freedom since corporations already have a free hand to repress workers’ rights, ignore safety standards, ignore environmental issues and conduct their business activities by encroaching on villager’s land. This is all thanks to the legacy of military rule over the last 60 years and the lack of any parliamentary political parties representing workers or small scale farmers.
By flagging up business deregulation and distancing himself from Taksin’s previous pro-poor policies, such as universal health care, job creation funds and debt relief for poor farmers, Thanathorn has clearly indicated that he believes that The Future Forward Party should be a right-wing, business-friendly, neoliberal party that opposes military dictatorship.
Yet his co-organiser Piyabutr Saengkanokkul has previously stated that the party should be built in the mould of left-wing parties such as Syriza, Podemos and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise!! How are the two founders of the party going to square the circle?
The only way out is to totally ignore real politics and blur the differences between right-wing and left-wing politics. Piyabutr has previously claimed, incorrectly, that the concept of right and left wing politics is not applicable to Thai society. That would imply that there are no differences between the interests of ordinary working people or poor farmers and the big corporations; no differences between the poor and the rich. This is despite Thailand being an extremely unequal society! Such a position from a university law academic is beyond belief. It appears like an attempt to perpetuate the widespread ignorance among many people regarding contested issues of political economy and political theories. For decades the Thai ruling class and the military have stated that there are no alternatives to the right-wing conservative narratives.
All too often, denying the real differences between Right and Left has been used as a cover for those who want to maintain mainstream pro-business politics. It is similar to claims by those on the right that they are “non-political”.
This does not bode well for those who are hoping that the Future Forward Party will be a new progressive party. Instead it looks like it will be an anti-military, neo-liberal, party of the middle classes. But without building links to the working class and poor farmers, the party will never be able to reduce the power of the military.