Of real red-shirts and fake red-shirts

Within the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorships (UDD) there are red-shirts who believe the struggle is more than just about one man. But there are also red-shirts who know only how to dance at the end of the string dangled by that one man.

Fake red-shirts are tools of the billionaire political machine – they yell and scream about power to the people as a marketing gimmick, but actually serve the interests of the political machine above all else. They include both the peaceful and the hardcore. 

Real red-shirts include human rights activists, democracy advocates and even proponents of republicanism. They fight for what they perceive as the power of the people, rather than as puppets dangling at the end of the string of a political machine. They include both the peaceful and the hardcore.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung addresses red-shirt members who gathered at the Royal Plaza on Tuesday to demand the government consider an amnesty proposal for political prisoners. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Fake red-shirts are those who condone and make excuses. They are the ones who conveniently ignore Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung’s open support for the lese majeste law. They are the ones who not only sit idly by but in fact profer excuses why the Pheu Thai government is not fulfilling promises made to its support base. 

Real red-shirts, meanwhile, continue to make demands and put pressure on the Pheu Thai government to fulfill its promises. 

That the threats to the Pheu Thai government are tanks and protesters on the streets and judges on the Constitution Court bench have been well discussed. 

Those are the threats; what then are the courses of action? To be cowed into inaction and eventual submission in the interests of staying in power, or to take a stance and to fulfill the promises made to the people who voted for them? 

Thus far, in the case of the lese majeste law, there has only been not just inaction, but open support for it, as declared by Mr Chalerm – the irony of it all. 

To amend the law immediately may perhaps be too controversial, granted. To do away with the law altogether would be playing with fire, understood. 

But to take some sort of a stance, to say a word or two against the abuse and exploitation of the lese majeste law should not be beyond the courage and conviction of the Pheu Thai government. That is, if it is truly sincere in its promises of justice, democracy and human rights. 

On Tuesday, the real red-shirts, calling themselves the January 29 group, marched on Government House to submit a letter demanding amnesty for those they call "political prisoners", in accordance with the proposal by the Nitirat group. 

Whether one agrees with their political stand or not, they are exercising democratic power in demanding that the government they voted for fulfill its promises. 

One may argue about whether those in jail are "political prisoners" or "imprisoned terrorists", but one can appreciate the consistency and conviction of the real red-shirts who are pressuring the Pheu Thai government. 

Amnesty and lese majeste, two issues on the same plate. Many of those red-shirts in jail are there on lese majeste charges, most recently Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who last week received an 11 year prison sentence.

Suda Rangkupan (Photo by Achara Ashayagachat)

The leaders of this January 29 group are not named Jatuporn Prompan or Nattawut Saikuar. They are Suda Rangkupan, human rights activist and member of Chulalongkorn University's faculty of arts. They are Mai-nueng Gor Goontee, writer, poet and human rights activist. 

During the rally, Mai-nueng even went so far as to announce that if the government did not have an answer for the group by 6pm, they would close down Government House and set up a permanent rally stage. 

It is ironic indeed that Mr Chalerm, who on behalf of the Pheu Thai government supports lese majeste, was chosen to receive the group’s letter and addressed them from the stage. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said later the government will take all amnesty proposals, including the demands of the January 29 group, into consideration.

At the end of it, Thawat Boonfueng, deputy secretary-general for the prime minister, was sent to address the crowd. He asked for time for the Council of State to vet to the proposal. Satisfied, at least for now, the gathering  dispersed by 8pm. 

Let’s give the government the benefit of the doubt, for now at least. While the integrity of the Pheu Thai government remains to be seen, they still have more than two years left to prove themselves. In fact, let’s be honest, with the way things are going they probably have another 20 years in power, at least. 

But today the question is -  should the government be cowed by the fear of possibly losing power into sacrificing promises of justice, democracy and human rights; or – at the very least – should it have the courage to take some sort of a public stand, starting with the lese majeste law, to simply say something.

But then again, as has been repeated and is worth repeating again, Mr Chalerm already has taken that stance on behalf of the government. The stance is to support lese majeste.  

Real red-shirts are those who put power to the people above all else. Fake red-shirts are those who serve the power of the political machine above all else.

Regardless, at the end of the day both sides have one thing in common in that they will vote for Pheu Thai come what may, as the opposition, the alternative, is far too entrenched with the conservative establishment. 

Meanwhile, perhaps it’s worthwhile asking a reflective question: what are we actually fighting for?  Power to the people or power for the political machine? Some will tell you though, that they are one and the same – and that’s the magical power of brainwashing. 

Yet, it does beg the question - depending on who owns and runs the UDD, which side is actually the real red-shirts and which the fake?

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About the author

Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator