13 June 2024

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the Cycle

Over the past twenty years, every major event in Thai politics was defined by its connection—either in support or opposition—to Thaksin Shinawatra. For millions of pro-democracy voters who rejected the military establishment, Thaksin was the only alternative. But Thaksin is a populist, not a liberal democrat, and since his return from self-exile he has become part of the establishment himself.

In 2018, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit launched a new political party, Future Forward, as a genuinely progressive, democratic challenger to military dictatorship and Thaksin-style populism. Only a year later, Future Forward came third in the 2019 election, after a wave of support for its charismatic leader. But soon afterwards, Thanathorn was disqualified as an MP by the Constitutional Court, due to his ownership of shares in a media company. In 2020, the court dissolved Future Forward, ruling that it had violated party funding rules by accepting a ฿191 million loan from Thanathorn.

Aekaphong Saransate and Thanakrit Duangmaneeporn’s new film Breaking the Cycle (อำนาจ ศรัทธา อนาคต) follows Thanathorn throughout all of these events, though it begins in 2014 with his determination to end the vicious cycle of military coups that has characterised Thailand’s modern political history. This mission gives the film its title, and Future Forward co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul asks: “Why is Thailand stuck in this cycle of coups?” Like Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), Breaking the Cycle features stunning drone shots of Democracy Monument to symbolise the country’s fragile democratic status.

Breaking the Cycle
Homogeneous, Empty Time

The documentary benefits from its extensive access to every senior figure within Future Forward, with intimate fly-on-the-wall coverage of the 2019 election campaign. The directors were even able to film Thanathorn as he reacted to the guilty verdicts being delivered by the Constitutional Court. They also interview him, but he doesn’t clarify his media shares or his party loan. Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich admits that Future Forward was politically naive, a description that arguably applies even more to its successor, Move Forward.

The film ends with the caption “THE CYCLE CONTINUES”, which is sadly accurate. In a carbon copy of the Thanathorn case, Move Forward’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat was also investigated for ownership of media shares. Although Pita was exonerated, history looks likely to repeat itself this year, as Move Forward is facing almost certain dissolution. The Constitutional Court has already ruled that the party’s manifesto pledge to amend the lèse-majesté law constituted an attempt to overthrow the monarchy.

Breaking the Cycle is a complete record of the rise and fall of the Future Forward movement, and the even greater election result achieved by Move Forward last year. The subsequent sustained opposition to Move Forward and its idealistic leader—from Pheu Thai, the military, the Senate, and the Constitutional Court—is even more consequential than the fate of Future Forward, and the story of Move Forward is still unfolding.

As one of the documentary’s interviewees says: “This is the beginning of the next chapter.” If Breaking the Cycle is a prologue to the story of Move Forward, hopefully its eventual sequel will feature a new iteration of the party gaining power after the 2027 election. That’s something Thanathorn half-jokingly predicts in the film: “In three elections we’ll be the government.”

Breaking the Cycle is one of very few feature-length political documentaries to go on general theatrical release in Thailand. Like Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย), Breaking the Cycle has been a box-office hit with politically engaged young people, which is hardly surprising given the unprecedented support that Future Forward (and Move Forward) received from Millennials and Gen Z. (There will be a Q&A with Aekaphong and Thanakrit at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 30th June.)

Yesterday, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon filed a complaint at the Central Investigation Bureau in Bangkok, calling for a police investigation into Breaking the Cycle on charges of sedition (article 116 of the Thai criminal code). Mongkolkit, former leader of the Thai Civilized Party (a right-wing microparty), accused the film of presenting a one-sided account of Future Forward. (This is true, but of course it isn’t a crime.)

Mongkolkit also complained that the film discussed the 2014 coup without explaining the reasons why the junta seized power, as if any explanation could justify the military’s power grab. It’s deeply ironic that film directors are facing potential charges for discussing the coup, while the generals who orchestrated the coup have avoided prosecution.

1 comment(s):

Matthew Hunt said...

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/facingthecycle/

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