A 40-year-old tycoon who has become the darling of Thai millennials thanks to his sharp social media messaging on Wednesday decried efforts to "kick out his legs", as his upstart pro-democracy party soars in profile ahead of next month's election.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the scion of a billionaire auto-parts maker, is the charismatic frontman of Future Forward, a new party targeting the urban youth vote with a staunchly anti-junta platform.
He has disrupted the Thai political scene, offering a fresh option to the long-standing binary political choice between a royalist, military-aligned bloc or the populist parties of billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thanathorn has drawn an adoring social media following, mainly among young, first-time voters, who appear enamoured as much by his good looks as his policies, dubbing him "Daddy" in a reference to a soap opera character.
But legal troubles have come in lock-step with popularity.
On Wednesday he appeared at the prosecutor's office over a case brought by the junta under Thailand's hardline Computer Crimes Act.
He and two other party officials could face five years in jail if convicted of spreading false information about the junta in a Facebook live broadcast last year.
"We are confident in our innocence and we are confident in people power," Thanathorn told reporters.
"I think people understand that as the popularity of Future Forward rises ... there are efforts to kick out my legs. But we will keep moving forward."
Prosecutors will again meet on March 26, for further consideration on whether to indict.
Thanathorn later took to Twitter, warning his 182,000 followers "this is not the last hurdle that will obstruct us".
Future Forward are running candidates in every constituency.
They are eying a possible king-making role in a pro-democracy coalition if elections fail to deliver an outright winner.
March 7 verdict
The likelihood elections will result in a stalemate has increased since the future of Thai Raksa Chart, a party linked to Thaksin Shinawatra, was plunged into doubt by a botched bid to field Princess Ubolratana as their candidate for prime minister.
The move was swiftly snuffed out by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who rebuked the use of his older sister in frontline politics as "highly inappropriate".
The party is now also mired in legal troubles.
The Constitutional Court will rule on March 7 over allegations Thai Raksa Chart committed "a hostile act against the constitutional monarchy", it said in a statement Wednesday.
The court could dissolve the party -- as it has done with several Shinawatra parties before.
Thai Raksa Chart is key plank of the Shinawatra electoral strategy, which aims to soak up constituencies in its north and northeastern heartlands with the bigger Pheu Thai party, leaving smaller affiliates to boost seat numbers via the party list.
Army chief turned premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha wants to return as a civilian leader after next month's polls.
He seized power from a Shinawatra government in 2014 and is running for premier for a junta-linked party.
Critics say he has tilted Thailand's political landscape in his favour.
The senate is set to be appointed by Prayut's number two, while electoral rules have been redrawn to prevent a big win by a Shinawatra party.
The gruff retired general this week turned down the chance to join television debates, but insisted he was "not afraid" of public discourse.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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