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Thailand's Thaksin lauds 'disruptors' Move Forward for election triumph

FILE PHOTO: Thailand's ex-PM Thaksin shakes up election with talk of return

By Chayut Setboonsarng

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's influential former premier Thaksin Shinawatra on Tuesday hailed the election-winning Move Forward Party as disruptors who mastered social media, and said aging army generals central to years of turmoil should retire with dignity.

The self-exiled tycoon, a towering figure in Thai politics whose family is the driving force behind the dominant Pheu Thai party, said Move Forward proved social media and user-generated content (UGC) can triumph over big-spending campaigns and vote-buying.

Before Sunday's vote, Thaksin's populist political juggernaut had won every election since 2001, despite being ousted from office three times. It lost to the progressive Move Forward by 10 seats.

"They used UGC on TikTok because the youngsters use TikTok. It's getting votes and canvassers organically and you don't use a lot of resources," Thaksin said during a two-hour political discussion streamed online.

Move Forward had strong appeal and organisation in university towns, Thaksin said, adding many young people convinced their parents to vote for Move Forward.

"Pheu Thai got hammered because we did not disrupt ourselves enough. Move Forward's trend overcame Pheu Thai and the other parties that had money," he said.

Move Forward rode a wave of excitement among the youth generated by its liberal agenda and promises of bold change, including tackling monopolies and amending a law that prescribes long jail sentences for insulting the monarchy, a taboo issue.

Pheu Thai has agreed to form a six-party alliance with Move Forward, hoping more will join to keep the defeated pro-military parties out of government in the coup-prone country.

'WHATEVER WILL BE'

Thaksin wields significant influence despite being in exile for 17 years to avoid a jail sentence for abuse of power, which he denies. He reiterated his plan to return to Thailand in July and asked about prison said: "whatever will be, will be."

Thaksin also pledged loyalty to the palace and stressed Pheu Thai would not back any actions by Move Forward that would impact the monarchy.

Move Forward and Pheu Thai trounced parties backed by the royalist military, two of those led by former army chiefs involved in coups against Thaksin and the government of sister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thaksin dismissed speculation of a secret deal with one of those generals to form a government, calling it an attempt to discredit Pheu Thai using online trolls.

He said Move Forward even won support in districts with large concentrations of rank-and-file soldiers, highlighting a generational differences over the military's political role.

"For the two uncles, it should be enough is enough," he said, referring to the generals. "Hanging up your gloves has dignity," he added.

"It's a wake up call for the army. Using excessive power is something Thai society rejects. So it added to Move Forward's currency."

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Writing by Martin Petty; editing by Grant McCool)