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Interview

Thailand's Thanathorn vows to keep fighting for democracy

Leader of disbanded party will start organizing political rallies around May

Future Forward Party former leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks to Nikkei Asian Review on Wednesday in Bangkok. (Photo by Akira Kodaka) 

BANGKOK -- The former leader of Thailand's dissolved opposition Future Forward Party vowed to carry on campaigning for true democracy in the Southeast Asian kingdom, despite a 10-year ban from politics.

"It doesn't mean I cannot be involved in political activities," Thanathorn said in an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review on Wednesday. "I can still talk, meet people, rally and campaign for what I believe."

The 41-year-old millionaire led the party until it was ordered by the Constitutional Court to dissolve on Feb 21 after being found guilty of receiving 191 million baht ($6.1 million) in illegal funds from the party leader. The court barred 11 party executives from running for office or being involved in a new party for a decade.

The dissolution of Future Forward has energized university and high-school students to campaign on their campuses for a fair democracy.

"I think this is the most exciting moment in modern Thai history," Thanathorn said of the youth movement. "This is the best opportunity since the 1950s to establish genuine democracy rallies. If we let go of it, we don't know when it's going to come again."

Future Forward became the third-largest party in parliament in the March 2019 general election that ended nearly five years of military rule. In its platform, it pledged to update the constitution, cut the military budget, and bring the military under civilian control.

Thanathorn said such reforms would help solve structural problems that allow the privileged to keep profiting. "Radical problems require radical solutions," he told Nikkei. "I see myself as someone who break that chain."

Fifty-five former Future Forward members of parliament are expected to form a new party on March 8. They have yet to reveal a name.

Yet, he said he wouldn't rush to organize demonstrations any time soon because it would not be "socially responsible" due to the new coronavirus outbreak. He said his rallies could start around May.

In Thai history, rallies often lead to military intervention and bloodshed, so Thanathorn said he would keep them short and peaceful.

"Organizing rallies is a basic right in modern society," he said. "What is going to make it bloody is definitely not me," he said.

The former leader said he would return to politics in a decade -- depending on the situation -- but he would leave the arena should his ideas and ideals be achieved.

Thanathorn said the fastest way to achieve the reforms would be for parties with true democratic ideals to win the next general election -- scheduled for 2023 but Thanathorn predicts a snap poll.

"I will be surprised if the current government lasts through 2020," he said.

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