Violence by armed red-shirt militants against anti-government protesters is possible but remains a distant scenario unless the military or other agencies force a delay in the Feb 2 election, red-shirt sources said.
Independent red-shirt militants and former supporters of the Pheu Thai Party from the lower Northeast region told the Bangkok Post that weapons and ammunition have been hidden in Bangkok and surrounding areas for some months.
"This is not to hit the protesters but to retaliate against a coup and anyone who forces the public and government agencies such as the Election Commission [EC] and the judiciary to postpone the election," said a red-shirt source in Ubon Ratchathani.
He said the underground wings of the red-shirt movement were beyond the control or command of any single boss.
"There are strong anti-coup and anti-court sentiments among the red-shirt mavericks who are familiar and experienced with weapon use," he said.
Thaksin Shinawatra, widely viewed as the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party, disagreed with arms stockpiling for fear of being unable to control the militants and their actions, said the source.
He said the red shirts have access to heavy arms through sources in the North and Northeast.
Cherdchai Tontisiri, a red-shirt core leader in Khon Kaen, said many people back the Feb 2 election.
If the military and other agencies intervene in the dispute, red shirts would travel to Bangkok and challenge them.
Dr Cherdchai said the law must be upheld.
"If the EC cannot do its job, let them resign and a new commission will be appointed.
"If we cannot have as many MPs as we need to convene the House after Feb 2, re-elections can be arranged until we meet the legal requirement to convene parliament," he said.
Soldiers and police could volunteer to help provide the venues for registration, balloting and counting, he added.
Pichit Likitkijsomboon, a Thammasat University economics associate professor and a red-shirt supporter, said concerns over bloodshed should not be considered from only the protesters' perspective.
"People fear if the government doesn't postpone the election, there will be a civil war. Conversely, if there is no election as announced on Feb 2, there will also be anger.
"Those remaining underground will come out to chart their own course," said Mr Pichit.
Such a fatal and insecure situation would benefit no one when lawlessness and violence prevail, he said.
Mr Pichit admitted there are conflicts within the red-shirt movement as there are a number of splinter groups, opportunists and elements which cannot be controlled.
He said he believes these red shirts will reunite if they are called to arms.
"The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship [UDD] needs to stop pretending to be a white-shirted group calling for the election while the anti-government protesters are dragging the country down into hell," he said.
The former left-wing strategist said the UDD should stop mobilising people in the Bangkok suburbs.
Radical local leaders such as those in Chiang Mai, Pathum Thani and Udon Thani should not block anti-government rallies in provinces or march into the capital.
"Stop doing anything that will create an undesirable public image for the whole red-shirt movement," said Mr Pichit.
The morality of the pro-Thaksin movement was affected since the Rajamangala Stadium clash between individual members and students around the Ramkhamhaeng University campus in late November.
The violence resulted in the deaths of three red shirts and one student and dozens of injuries.
"The red shirts need to keep campaigning against a coup and for the election.
They should allow neutral groups to express their opinions.
You don't have to blend in with them or try to steal the show," said Mr Pichit.
Coalition parties such as Bhumjaithai have enthusiastically campaigned for the election in the Northeast.
They also target their campaign directly at the media and certain constituencies in Bangkok for the party list candidates.
"The two sides are playing for time and are trying to win public sympathy," said another red shirt in Udon Thani.
Those who cause the election to be delayed would have to take the blame for any unrest that might follow, he said.