Asia-Pacific

'We want real democracy': Thailand's youth voice hope as election polls open

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On Sunday, Thailand's youth will have their first taste of democracy, many sick of the status quo are putting their support behind a new political party lead by a 40-year-old billionaire.

Abby O'Brien reports from Bangkok

Thanathorn Jungrungreangkit is new kid on the block in Thai politics. 

Although you wouldn’t know by the 10,000-strong crowd that packs a sports stadium in Bangkok, the venue of the Future Forward Party's final pitch to voters.

The 40-year-old billionaire burst on to Thailand’s political scene last year and captured the hearts of the country’s millennials.  

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit greets his supporters.
Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit greets his supporters.
SIPA USA

With his charisma, boyish good looks and emphatic fan base known as the Futuristas, Thailand’s youngest candidate for Prime Minster is more movie star than politician. 

After a long evening of speeches and pep talks from the top ranks of the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn finally made his way on to the stage. 

The crowd of mostly youths go wild as they erupt into cheers, screaming 'Daddy'. 

The nickname refers to a Thai soap opera character, who is best known for his love affair with a younger woman. 

A supporter of Thanathorn Jungrungreangkit.
A supporter of Thanathorn Jungrungreangkit.
SBS

Since Thanathorn launched his the party, he has been courting the nation's youth voters.  

When asked by SBS News why the millennial vote is so important, he says it is because for more than a decade they have been voiceless.  

"This generation cares about the consequences of a decade-long conflict they didn’t vote for," he said. 

"But they bear the consequences." 

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Meet Thailand's first trans gender PM candidate.
Meet Thailand's first trans gender PM candidate.

Young Thais have grown up in climate of political instability, marked by two military coups over the past decade. The events have divided the country into two camps - supporters of the pro-military royalist parties and those who back the ousted leaders. 

Thailand has not held a general election in eight years and as a consequence there are over 7 million first time voters - a record number. 

This election is their first taste of democracy. 

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said many are embracing Thanathorn with a level of political enthusiasm not seen in years.  

"I have not seen a kind of collective voice and pent-up disenchantment with the status quo that I’m seeing today," he told SBS News.

University students attend a rally pre-Thai election.
University students attend a rally pre-Thai election.
SBS

"A lot of young people - 25 and under and even 40 and under - they’re more politically active, conscious [voters]. 

That is certainly the case at Bangkok's Thammasat University, where SBS News asked students how they are feeling about the vote. 

"Very excited!" said one female student. 

"Since we were young, we didn’t see any change [but] we’ve seen lot of coup d'états. It's like a circle, it never ends. We want to see change - real democracy," a male student explained. 

And it is no surprise who they want to see lead that change.  

"Thanathorn's campaign respond to our needs," said a student for the university's school of political science.

Thanathorn Jungrungreangkit
Thanathorn Jungrungreangkit leader of the Future Forward Party.
SBS

"Future Forward party, they are fresh, [they are] craving to make a change. Their policy tries to attract the new generation," said another. 

But the party's not just luring in millennials.  

One Thai-Australian woman, who landed a front row seat the the Future Forward Party's final campaign, is also seeking change.

She flew all the way from from Sydney hoping to witness it first hand. 

"We need to move forward," she told SBS News.

While the Future Forward Party are not the front-runners in this race, many at the rally hope they will win enough seats in tomorrow’s vote to give Thai politics a new voice.  

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