A young Thai billionaire is causing a stir on the political scene after launching a new progressive party that is capturing the interest of younger voters ahead of the long-delayed national election slated for February next year
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, dubbed the ‘peasant billionaire’ by Thai media because of his stance against the Thai political elite, teamed up with law professor Piyabutr Saengkanokkul to form their Future Forward party, the Straits Times reported.
The 39-year old businessman, who is the executive vice president and director of auto parts manufacturing company Thai Summit Group, has caught the imagination of Thailand’s pro-democracy community with his liberal views and youth-orientated discourse.
Other founding members of the party include university students, labour and LGBT activists and a representative from the disabled community, the Straits Times reported. In an introductory video Juangroongruangkit said that “the future cannot be designed by those who would not live in it.”
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an exiled professor and frequent critic of Thailand’s current military government, told AFP that Juangroongruangkit was “a breath of fresh air.”
“This guy has no political baggage,” he said. “He has no corruption cases… It is a long time since we have had anything like this come along.”
Party registration was opened earlier this month by Thailand’s ruling junta in preparation for an election that has been repeatedly delayed since the military seized power in the 2014 coup.
Although Juangroongruangkit’s arrival on the political scene has been met with fervent support on social media by liberal-minded supporters, his popularity has raised comparisons with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s rise to power in the early 2000s. The billionaire telecommunications mogul, who introduced universal health care as well as programs to reduce poverty and expand infrastructure, was the first democratically elected leader to serve a full term and was re-elected in 2005 with an emphatic majority. However, his tenure was blighted by allegations of corruption and power abuse, and he was ousted by the military in a 2006 coup.
Despite his uncle Suriya Juangroongruangkit being the former transport minister in Shinawatra’s government, the young billionaire has stated that he does not align himself with any current political group, Reuters reported.
Juangroongruangkit is yet to announce any policies due to the ongoing ban on political activity introduced by the junta in 2014. Despite this and a ban on public gatherings, activists took to the streets earlier this month to demonstrate against the repeated delay of the election.
The ruling junta, which has been repeatedly accused of using its control of the nation’s courts to stifle dissent, charged dozens of people for taking part in the February protests. Nevertheless, Juangroongruangkit told AFP that he is ready for the challenge.
“There is a high chance I might end up in jail … but I think that’s a risk I am ready to take,” he said. “Our new future is worth fighting for.”