The red shirts may be a disparate bunch, but say their fight for justice and democracy unites them.
Red shirt co-leader Jatuporn Prompan, centre, makes a point during a forum at the Bangkok Post on Tuesday. Also present are Suda Rangkupan of Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of arts, left, and Sirote Klampaiboon, an independent scholar on human rights, right. SOMCHAI POOMLARD
That common aim might explain why they still remain loyal to the Pheu-Thai led government, despite provocations.
The human rights academics, activists, and United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leaders who gathered at a Bangkok Post forum on Tuesday insist their support for the government they helped put in power has not wavered, even as some openly criticise its performance.
Red-shirt activists who spoke at the forum put forth human rights, democracy and justice as their primary aims.
They said the movement had grown stronger as a result of having to overcome obstacles in its path _ including some thrown there by their own side.
Their complaints include the government's apparent tardiness in helping UDD members awaiting trial for alleged offences committed during the 2010 red-shirt led street clashes.
UDD core leader Jatuporn Prompan, who spoke at the forum, insisted the movement has always acted democratically, even if some of its critics would question its conduct during the fiery street protests.
The first thing to note in any gathering of red shirts such as this is that not all red shirts are members of the core UDD group. The movement consists of different groups, such as those whose primary interests centre on human rights issues rather than just politics.
However, the panelists agreed they were all united for the causes of justice and democracy.
"They can topple the government [through a military coup]. They can rule temporarily, for three months or five months. But in the end, they will always lose," said Sirote Klampaiboon, an independent scholar on human rights, talking about the conservative elite.
Mr Sirote cited the evolution of the populace and the strong parliamentary majority held by the Pheu Thai Party as reasons why the other side could not claim victory for long.
"In the old days, people upcountry did not know what was going on in Bangkok," he said. "But nowadays [because of information technology and the media], they know."
According to the scholar, people upcountry are developing a political consciousness and are willing to step up and make their voices heard.
That growing political awareness among the grassroots sets apart the present conflict from previous ones in Thailand, he said.
Critics of the Pheu Thai government and the UDD question their motives and legitimacy, and ask whether the alliance between the UDD and the government can last.
UDD leader Jatuporn posed "theoretical possibilities" of a split between the Pheu Thai Party and its support base. That might occur in the event of corruption, and if Pheu Thai "betrays the people", he said.
But neither he nor the other panelists see this happening as they believe the Pheu Thai government stands for justice and democracy, the same goals they themselves pursue.
Suda Rangkupan, of Chulalongkorn University's faculty of arts, is a leading member of the Patinya Na San Group or Declaration of Street Justice, which helps political prisoners.
She said the UDD still has more than 1,000 members languishing in prisons and more than 30 still missing as a result of the 2010 military crackdown. "We must bring them justice," she said.
The panelists failed to agree on whether Pheu Thai and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are doing enough to provide justice to UDD members.
Ms Suda said she understands the position of the government, that the economy is the number one priority. She also added that ensuring justice will take time, because civil servants are still entrenched with the conservative elite and stand against attempts to ensure justice. "It's most difficult, especially with the power of the judicial branch," she said.
Phiangkam Pradupkwam, an independent red-shirt poet, but not a UDD member, posed the following questions.
"Do we have to agree with the government on everything?" she asked.
"Can we stand on our own? Can the UDD take the lead?"
Both Dr Suda and Ms Phiangkam work closely with victims of the crackdown.
Ms Phiangkam read out a letter from one UDD member whose suffering led him to state that he's ready to sacrifice his life for the causes he believes in.
Mr Jatuporn, meanwhile, called the direction of the Pheu Thai government "uncertain" and "stagnated".
He warned the Pheu Thai regime is extending a hand to the very people who helped topple previous democratically elected regimes.
"In the end, the government will realise they have only the red populace to lean on," he said.
Both Mr Jatuporn and Ms Phiangkam pointed to different UDD social media networks for evidence the movement does not blindly follow the Pheu Thai Party. UDD factions voice protests and dissatisfaction with the Yingluck government when they believe they are warranted.
Red shirts say the government is preferable to its opponents, who employ "undemocratic tactics".
Panelists were asked that if the 2006 coup was undemocratic, and the storming of Government House and the occupation of Suvarnabhumi airport in 2008 by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) similarly undemocratic, how should the public regard the red-shirt-led storming of the Royal Cliff Pattaya Hotel, where the Asean summit was held in 2009, and the occupation of Ratchaprasong district in 2010 _ should they not also be seen as undemocratic?
The panelists delegated Mr Jatuporn to answer.
According to Mr Jatuporn, the UDD only meant to march on the Asean summit to hand over a petition letter. However, he said soldiers "disguised in blue shirts" fired at them and hurled stones. That's why the incident led to the storming of the hotel.
He said the 2006 coup and the "illegal" Abhisit Vejjajiva government were wrongs which in turn led to the occupation of the Ratchaprasong intersection. "It all started from the wrongs [committed by the other side], and everything else just followed," he said.
When asked whether those wrongs can really serve to legitimise everything which followed, Mr Jatuporn said the occupation of Ratchaprasong was a legal and peaceful demonstration. The burning of the CentralWorld department store was not done by the UDD, he said.
The panelists said the UDD and other red shirt groups had grown out of the coup into a civil movement, gaining strength and unity along the way.
About the author
- Writer: Post Reporters