Asia Pacific / Politics

Thai opposition plans more protests after thousands join rally

Bloomberg

Thailand’s highest-profile opposition party warned of more demonstrations after drawing thousands of people to an anti-government rally Saturday that also protested the prospect of its looming dissolution.

The crowd assembled on an elevated walkway in a Bangkok shopping district three days after the Election Commission said it will petition a court to break up Future Forward for breaching financing rules, a charge the party rejects.

“This is an opportunity for people who are against the current regime to come out and show their power,” Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 41, said in a briefing before the rally. At the gathering, he indicated the party will take to the streets next month.

Future Forward is less than 2 years old but surged in March’s general election, which came after almost five years of military rule. It’s part of a sizable opposition bloc in parliament that questions the fairness of the poll and its aftermath. A pro-military coalition led by former junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha took office after the disputed vote with a razor-thin majority.

Demonstrators packed the walkway late afternoon in downtown Bangkok and chanted slogans such as “Thanathorn, fight, fight!” There was no immediate official estimate of the size of the crowd, but a rough count indicates thousands people.

Thanathorn called on supporters to “stand up and fight” in a Twitter post Friday that announced the plan for the gathering.

Thanathorn is a critic of the military’s influence and the royalist establishment’s grip on power. His party is the third-largest in parliament and has goals including rewriting the army-backed constitution and breaking up oligopolies.

A court last month barred the former business tycoon from parliament for breaking media shareholding rules, accusations Thanathorn said were politically motivated.

Judges dissolved a party opposed to military rule in the run-up to the election. The party, Thai Raksa Chart, was linked to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The dissolution didn’t spark unrest, but bloody street clashes occurred in the past when another Thaksin-linked party was disbanded.

The ruling alliance’s biggest party, Palang Pracharath, has previously said Thanathorn should respect the justice system and that most people don’t want to see street demonstrations again.

Thailand has a history of sometimes destabilizing political protests followed by military takeovers, a cycle that’s contributed to slower economic growth compared with neighbors such as Indonesia and Vietnam. The baht weakened and stocks pared gains Friday after Thanathorn called for the rally.

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