It was the week after the March 24 election when Taopiphop Limjittrakorn said he got the first call.
The founding member of the Future Forward Party, who was being swept into parliament by the breakout success of his new progressive party, found himself offered a pretty tempting bounty for a middle-class guy: Support junta leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha and become instantly wealthy.
“Someone called me and offered me 30 million. They said, ‘If you come and talk to me tomorrow, I will give you 10 million baht cash,’” Taopiphop told Coconuts Bangkok this morning. “I just said no. I wanted to hang up the phone as quickly as possible.”
In a Thursday morning interview, Taopiphop laid out details consistent with accounts emerging from other members of parliament, mostly other Future Forward members, who are going public with stories shining light on the ugly money at play in Thai politics. He says the offers rose to a staggering THB120 million (US$3.8 million).
Taopiphop, 30, said he wasn’t approached directly by the deep-pocketed “investors” he likens to a drug cartel, nor their intermediaries. Instead, they were able to convince a trusted associate to approach him with the offer. For that reason, he is unwilling to identify who contacted him or go to the police.
“That’s how they work,” he said. “Thats why I cannot talk. That’s how they do it.”
And it wasn’t the same person – he was approached with multiple offers that went up to THB50 million and 70 million.
“Two weeks ago, they offered me 120 million,” he said. “But you never know if they’re going to pay you or not, it doesn’t matter how much it is. Their budget was probably 100 million baht.”
In March, Taopiphop defeated the heavily favored Democrat, a former MP, to represent Bangkok’s Khlong San district. Prior to that, he entered the public imagination as a craft beer crusader two years ago when he was arrested for opening a homebrew bar called Taopiphop Beer Project.
Although it’s only Future Forward members who have so far gone public with their stories, he believes the same offers were made to many, many more MPs.
But Taopiphop says he isn’t trying to spread doubt about last night’s parliamentary vote which installed Gen. Prayuth prime minister. He said that he respects the votes of his fellow lawmakers, many of whom he believes were sincere.
“They probably voted what they think,” he said. “That’s okay. If people like Prayuth, that’s okay.”
He believes the money was a bid to sink some corrupting hooks into the new, reform-minded faces of Thai democracy, with an eye toward discrediting them down the line.
“I think they want to test somebody to cast a vote,” he said. “So its more about corrupting people. Younger people, everyone can do politics; people are people.”
As for last night’s outcome, he was disappointed not by those who were expected to support Prayuth but those who did so after campaigning on pledges not to.
“The worst thing that happened to Thai politics was some of the parties promised people not to in their campaign,” he said, without naming the Democrat Party, which vowed not to back Prayuth then did exactly that on the eve of the vote. “That was my first priority and concern, that I never break a promise or let the people down by saying one thing and doing another.”