Thanathorn Juangroongruangki born 25 November 1978, a Thai politician, political activist and former Vice President of the Thai Summit Group. Thanathorn decided to end his successful business career as Executive Vice President of Thai Summit Group to found Future Forward party with several like-minded allies in early March 2018. He was unanimously elected as Future Forward party leader during the party’s first public meeting in May 2018.
For almost two decades, Thai politics has been stuck in a seemingly endless loop featuring two opposing sides: the supporters of ousted billionaire prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who have dominated elections, and the Thai army, which has pushed the Thaksin forces out of power through coups and corruption charges.
Enter Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party, which hopes to offer a credible alternative. Thanathorn Juangroongruangki resigned from a leadership position in his billionaire family’s auto parts manufacturing company last May, opting instead to found a political party. Described as a “billionaire commoner,” wealthy yet apart from the palace-aligned elite that holds most sway in Thai society, the fit, handsome Thanathorn has drawn comparisons to French President Emmanuel Macron. Thanathorn’s popularity appears to have rattled the ruling junta, which is making a bid to extend its grip on power and keep the current prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, in office. The Future Forward Party has taken direct aim at the military government, and Thanathorn says his mission is to “stop the continuation of the junta’s regime.”
“I don’t see how we can transition our country to democracy anytime soon. It is going to be a long journey. It requires a decade, if we are lucky,” Thanathorn said. “Yet it will be meaningful, in the sense that people will have the opportunity to vote.”
Thanathorn Juangroongruangki Full Biography and Profile
Thanathorn was born and raised in Bangkok. He started working for the first time during third grade school holidays, earning a small wage of 30 bath per day by counting steels part in his parent’s factory.
Thanathorn received a joint-honours Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering from Thammasat University and the University of Nottingham. Due to his keen interest in social issues and economic theories, Thanathorn decided to pursue a master’s degree in Political Economy at Chulalongkorn University and later studied Global Finance at New York University and International Business Law at the University of St. Gallen.
His previous early career includes working with NGO networks such as Friends of The People (FOP) and the Assembly of The Poor. Thanathorn was about to begin his career with the United Nations as a development worker in Algeria, however, shortly after he has received unfortunate the news that his father, Pattana Juangroongruangkit, was diagnosed with cancer. Thanathorn subsequently moved back to Thailand to run the Thai Summit Group following his father’s death in 2002.
Thai Summit Auto Parts Co., Ltd. is a leading manufacturer of automotive parts in Thailand. Since Thanathorn began to manage the business, the company revenue has grown from THB 16 billion in 2001 to THB 80 billion in 2017. Under his leadership, Thai Summit Group has been transformed into a global company with manufacturing facilities in 7 countries and more than 16,000 employees worldwide.
Why Future Forward
While Thanathorn was studying at the University of Nottingham in England, he pursued an interest in political theory, which went on to influence his political stance as a social democrat. He was an active member in Thai activist groups fighting for rights of the people. One of his notable campaigns was for land and compensation rights of villagers affected by the Pak Mun dam in Ubon Ratchathani Province.
On 15 March 2018, Thanathom together with Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a former constitutional law professor at Thammasat University, announced that they are going to form a new political party under the name Future Forward Party.
Thanathorn has lightened up a new hope for Thailand. But more substantively, he has vowed to compensate for his country’s “lost decade” by reading out of a new political script, and he has been articulating his agenda on a variety of topics, including promoting democracy, fixing the ailing economy, building a high-tech society, and creating a space for LGBT groups.
Apart from the current sensationalism, it is also worth noting that Thanathorn has in fact long been known within intellectual circles in Thailand as a pro-democracy figure. And in the past, he voiced his strong opinions on controversial political issues, mostly criticizing the old forces for the protracted crisis in Thailand. Today, he vows to challenge the political elite and strives to shift the power structure, supposedly to benefit the underprivileged.
Thanathorn has talked succinctly about the current political crisis in Thailand as the basis of his political narrative. He has explained that the political consensus among key players was broken down, while the new one has not been discovered. This is not news to those familiar with Thailand. Since the downfall of the Thaksin Shinawatra government, as a result of a coup that overthrew him in 2006, Thailand has been battling with its domestic political upheaval. The royal transition that took place in 2016, after the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has further complicated the political situation, which remains unresolved to date.
In this broader context, Thanathorn has admitted too that there is a high possibility of a political confrontation between the new and old generations as a ferocious competition plays out to win over the hearts and minds of Thai voters. Instead of shying away from this, Thanathorn has urged the younger generation to be ready to engage in such a battle, even though it is highly risky and possibly fatal. Whether they will heed this call or not remains to be seen.
Additionally, Thanathorn’s opponents are monitoring him closely, and, already, old tactics are being employed to delegitimize him at this early stage. He has been accused of being an anti-monarchist because of his sponsorship of a local journal with contents critical of the monarchy (Thaksin was effectively removed from power because of this kind of accusation). This proves that the journey of Thanathron is not without problems.
A more arduous task for Thanathorn rests on his ability to gain support from the majority of Thailand. So far, he has been well received among the younger population in the urban areas. How he is able to connect his political party with the underprivileged in the countryside is the real challenge. He needs their serious support if he is to become a successful alternative choice in Thailand’s fiercely contested politics.
He has quickly acquired a growing cult following among the young urbanites of Bangkok. Fans call themselves “Fah” — a reference to a character on a popular Thai television program who is the mistress of a rich older man (Thanathorn is married with children) — and he is their “daddy.” They mob him, demanding selfies regardless of time or place, including once when he obliged by hanging out the back of a truck stuck in traffic. Some bestow gifts, like the large neon-green cup of bubble tea he had with him when he met with The Washington Post last month. They go crazy when he appears on television shows, awkwardly using teen slang words and the “finger heart” gesture made popular by Korean pop stars.
“There’s no hope left in this country. We’ve been in this political conflict since 2006,” Thanathorn said in an interview. “If you want to end this political polarization, you need a new force that’s not in one of the two camps.”
The leader of Future Forward Party enjoys extreme outdoor activities such as hiking, trekking, climbing, marathons, kayaking, biking, diving and mountaineering. He has participated in various extreme sports competitions, including significant world’s tournament such as Tor Des Geants and the Sahara Marathon. Thanathorn was notably the first Asian to complete the 560-kilometre self-supported foot race above the Arctic Circle.
He reads The New York Times, The Economist. Financial Times, Matichon Newspaper and Krungthepturakij Newspaper every day. He loves new challenges, readings and being with nature. He is a big fan of e-sport and gaming, such as Minecraft and ROV.
- Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit Biography and Profile (Goodreadbiography / Future Forward Party)