Let the voice of reason prevail
- Published: 4/07/2013 at 09:36 AM
- Online news:
Having attended several rallies by the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) over the years, one thing has become abundantly clear - when on the stage, UDD chairwoman Tida Tawornseth doesn’t receive nearly the response and applause that Jatuporn Prompan does.
Red-shirt members talk of Mrs Tida with admiration and respect, but they talk of Mr Jatuporn with passionate adoration and reverent adulation. Based on popularity alone, it’s not surprising that a UDD top meeting on Sunday led to the nomination of Mr Jatuporn as the new leader.
Jatuporn Prompan addresses Pheu Thai Party supporters from the stage at a rally in the Wong Wian Yai area of Bangkok in September, 2012. (Bangkok Post file photo)
After two years in the job, it’s understandable that Mrs Tida might want to step down. In saying he’s not ready for the job yet, Mr Jatuporn has rightfully played the humble role. But truthfully, for the sake of the UDD, and everyone else, Mrs Tida should stay on as chairwoman.
It is no secret that Mrs Tida’s chairwomanship has been symbolic. Her track record as a democracy activist and academic brings legitimacy to the UDD. Although how well this "legitimacy" has played out in the eyes of the rest of society depends on who you ask. It is no secret, either, that the real power and muscle of the UDD lies with Mr Jatuporn and his clique.
I remember the Ratchprasong gathering last year, on May 19, 2012. Academics on the stage speaking about academic things; the group of red-shirts around me chatted among themselves, half listening. Robert Amsterdam on the stage, bellowing into the microphone about bringing down the ammart and giving power to the people; the group made fun of the farang, as Thai people often do.
Everyone assured me, wanting to make a good impression for the outside observer, "just wait for Jatuporn, just you wait". When he came out, it was like Justin Bieber had arrived and the stadium was rocking. He dazzled and did not disappoint.
Back to present day, it seems that the nomination of Mr Jatuporn is perhaps meant to get the stadium rocking.
The UDD meeting on Sunday concluded that the political situation will, in the next few months, become critical. This is true. With the next readings of the amnesty bill and the infrastructure bill coming up, not to mention the military reshuffle, and with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra assuming the defence portfolio, the next few months will, indeed, be critical.
Pheu Thai MP and UDD key member Worachai Hema said there are also issues with independent agencies, the latest being the Central Administrative Court’s order that the government hold public hearings on the 350-billion-baht water and flood management projects.
He also pointed to the "growing and expanding" V for Thailand movement that is causing worries for both Pheu Thai and the UDD. This again is true. There’s also a claim that the Democrat Party had mobilised southerners to join the fight against the UDD. True or not, there is no evidence as yet. But it matters not, all the other developments are enough to cause concern for the Thaksin political machine.
UDD chairwoman Tida Tawornseth (Bangkok Post file photo)
Therefore, Mr Worachai said, the UDD needed a strong person at the top to cope with the situation. But what does that mean? Are we to see the stadium rocking?
Will Mr Jatuporn lead the red-shirts to surround Parliament House during the reading of the bills, pressuring for the bills to be passed? Camp out in front of the Defence Ministry during the military reshuffle, demanding the right relatives and classmates go into the right positions? Protest against the independent agencies, including the Central Administrative Court, pressuring them to give in to Pheu Thai’s directives? Take the streets away from the Guy Fawkes masks?
All these things the UDD would have the legal right to do. We do not have to all agree with their goals, but must recognise their democratic rights. However, it would serve the purposes of the UDD better if Mrs Tida is the one leading the charge.
In fact, it’s times like this when Mrs Tida and other UDD leaders like her need to assert themselves strongly. If they don’t, then Mr Jatuporn and other UDD leaders like him may assert themselves "too" strongly. This stadium that is Thailand does not need another rocking. Keep Justin Bieber at bay.
The resolution from the Sunday UDD meeting seems to be pointing at a confrontation. Mr Jatuporn is a political soldier. If you want a confrontation, put him in charge. But Thailand does not need another confrontation. Save for some minor clashes, the UDD and anti-Thaksin groups have throughout the years wisely avoided each other. But these next few months will indeed be critical times.
This is not to say that the UDD is bent on a confrontation. This is merely a suggestion that everyone should mind their step. Pheu Thai is in government. Independent agencies have the right to be independent. Supporters and opposition both have the right to rally and make demands, within the legal boundaries.
There is no need to set the scene for a confrontation. A confrontation could lead to chaos in the streets. It is likely the police would not be able to handle the situation. We are wary that the military would step in. We do not want a situation where the military becomes involved.
Don’t fall into the trap. Let democracy work itself out. Mr Jatuporn should keep on refusing the job. Mrs Tida should stay on in the job, under the assumption that, first, she would be a voice of reason and, second, that the voice would be strong enough.
The next few months will be critical. Everyone can rally and protest all they want, it’s their democratic right, but please do not abuse those rights. Whether democracy prevails, or violence consumes, however, will depend on how smart we are -- or how stupid we get.
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator