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Thailand Opposition Party Accused Of Illuminati Link


A political party in Thailand faces dissolution over supposed ties to the Illuminati - yes, like the secret society. The Future Forward Party has been popular for opposing the military's role in politics. It finished a strong third in an election last year. But tomorrow, a court could rule to shut the party down. Michael Sullivan reports.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Non-English language spoken).

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: A week ago Sunday, more than 10,000 people turned out at dawn in Bangkok for what they called a run against dictatorship.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).


SULLIVAN: It was the largest public gathering since the 2014 military coup. It was also a show of support for the beleaguered Future Forward Party. The message was clear - general-turned-prime-minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his friends have to go.

SOOMBOON RUNGSAWANG: They should not interfere with the politic no more. Everything is kind of going backward. We want something to change. We want change.

SULLIVAN: Runner Soomboon Rungsawang says it's time for the military to return to its barracks and stay there. And he scoffed at the idea of Future Forward being linked to the Illuminati, as did another runner, Chatchakorn Rattasap.

CHATCHAKORN RATTASAP: (Non-English language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "It's ridiculous," she says. "Just another way for the government to try to get rid of Future Forward," she says, "just because they're afraid of it" - with good reason.

THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK: What it stands for is diametrically opposed to the military-led establishment.

SULLIVAN: Thitinan Pongsudhirak is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.

PONGSUDHIRAK: Future Forward wants to abolish the draft, the conscription. They want to make the budget - military budget more transparent, weapons procurement more accountable. Future Forward, therefore, is seen certainly as a existential challenge to the military-led establishment.

SULLIVAN: An establishment that's been targeting the party since the general election last March, an election widely seen as rigged by the military. Future Forward's leader has been denied his seat in Parliament. And dozens of cases have been filed against the party, including tomorrow's sedition charge, which alleges that the party's inverted triangle logo resembles the symbol of the Illuminati, which some Thai royalists see as antimonarchist.

PAUL CHAMBERS: If, indeed, the constitutional court dissolves Future Forward based upon this far-fetched Illuminati rationale, I think the court will be the laughingstock of the world.

SULLIVAN: Paul Chambers is a lecturer at Naresuan University.

CHAMBERS: Certainly, they - the court had to accept this case because the palace is the center of gravity in Thailand. Any perceived criticism of monarchy - it must be assessed. But it would just be so ridiculous.

SULLIVAN: But politicians here have been brought down for far less. The conservative constitutional court once forced out a populist prime minister for hosting a cooking show while in office. Paul Chambers says Future Forward may yet dodge a bullet tomorrow, but...

CHAMBERS: The powers that be know that it's time to get rid of Future Forward Party by hook or by crook, by any which way possible.

SULLIVAN: But Chulalongkorn University's Thitinan Pongsudhirak thinks banning the party might not work the way the establishment hopes.

PONGSUDHIRAK: What it stands for, what it represents is going to persist and broaden. I think what they want is a new kind of Thailand. I think these people have seen the last 15 years wasted by political crises and coups. They want a future.

SULLIVAN: And he says they're young enough and fed up enough to do something about it.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.