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Will Street Protests Return if Future Forward is Disbanded?

BANGKOK — Dissolution of Future Forward Party or jailing of its leader may not elicit any protest from its supporters at all, veteran activists said Friday.

Future Forward has yet to announce any protest two days have elapsed since party chairman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was stripped from his MP status by a court in a case that many of his supporters said was highly politicized. Those who have organized street protests in the past say the situation is simply not equipped for a large scale resistance.

Pro-democracy activist Nuttaa “Bow” Mahattana said the days of the massive and protracted political protests are over. Speaking on the phone, Nuttaa said she doesn’t expect any major street protests even if Thanathorn is jailed or the party disbanded.

“The culture of fear has been created over the past five years under the military junta,” Nuttaa said. “Political protest has been painted as a crime and this led to a culture which detest political assembly.”

Ekachai Hongkangwan, another high-profile activist, agrees with Nutta’s assessment. Unlike Redshirts, who had ample experience of camping out for weeks in Bangkok, supporters of Future Forward Party are mostly the younger generations who do not like to go rough on the streets, Ekachai said.

Predicting a 99 percent likelihood of the party being disbanded, Ekachai said Future Forward supporters are more accustomed to “joining staged events” in enclosed venues than taking to the streets.

Fates of Thanathorn and his party were subjects of much speculation after a court ruling found the 40-year-old politician guilty of breaching election laws and removing him from his MP seat. Some supporters fear the verdict might be followed by further repercussions, including party dissolution or imprisonment of Thanathorn himself.

Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit in front of the Constitutional Court on Nov. 20, 2019.

Thanathorn struck a belligerent tone in his Thursday post on Instagram, saying that will continue to fight even if he ends up in prison.

“Even if my persistence to speak the truth like this means I have to end my life in prison, I will be proud,” Thanathorn wrote.

The possibility of a confrontation between the establishment and Future Forward Party, which counts at least 6 million votes in the latest election, raises concern that the cycle of street protests and violence may return to Thailand.

But activists interviewed for this story say such a scenario is unlikely. Nuttaa predicted that supporters of Future Forward won’t take to the streets even if their party is disbanded.

“It will be treated as just another news item,” Nuttaa, who led a series of small protests against the junta rule, said in an interview.

Street protests in recent years have been relatively small.

Future Forward Party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich could not be reached for comment as of publication time.

Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal said many young people, the core supporters of the party, may have no experience joining political protests. He said it also depends on Future Forward level of willingness to offer a resistance.

“Has Future Forward Party prepared the matter?” Netiwit said. “Have they held any training, coordinated with political activists outside the party for taking to the streets?”

The party’s refusal to call for a protest against Wednesday’s verdict was also met with frustration from some party supporters, who said it’s time to express their dissent beyond the echo chamber of social media.

“People of the new generation keep getting insulted that they are only good at generating hashtags and complaining,” activist Tanawat Wongchai wrote in a thread that has been shared at least 1,300 times. “If we are to hold a brief, ‘creative’ rally, without causing any trouble … are we ready for that?”

Longtime pro-democracy activist Sombat Boonngam-anong said the new generation can still learn to take to the streets, given proper environment.

“Having the party disbanded is definitely a condition that can lead to protests. As to whether there will be a demonstration or not, it depends on leadership. Who will ignite the protests?” Sombat said

He noted that the Future Forward Party has been careful in not making a threat to take its supporters to the streets.

“This has always been their stance. But when parliamentary politics failed. What will they do?” Sombat said.

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