Updated: Jatuporn, Nattawut and the protests

4 04 2021

Today, the recently erratic official red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan is tentatively rallying his supporters to oppose Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. This is surprising and somewhat difficult to understand.

Part of the reason why this is a surprise is that, as we observed back in January, United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leader Jatuporn had been saying some odd political things and seemed to have had a political meltdown, as enthusiastically reported by Thai PBS. Part of the meltdown involved a dispute with Thaksin Shinawatra over local elections.

Jatuporn

Jatuporn

As everyone knows, Jatuporn has a long pedigree as a political activist dating back to the 1992 uprising against another military power grab. For his leadership of red shirts, he had faced numerous criminal charges and several arrests and served 19 months in jail when a court found him guilty of defaming the reprehensible former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who led the regime that murdered red shirts in 2010. Jatuporn’s defamation was to aptly label Abhisit “a murderer” who “order[ed] the shooting dead of the protesters.”

Despite his history of political activism, his recent outbursts saw Jatuporn labeled a “traitor” and “lackey of the military.” There was muffled cheering from royalists when Jatuporn suggested that the UDD be disbanded and that the student protesters should refrain from calling for reform to the monarchy.

All of that had observers scratching their heads when Jatuporn urged the public to join a political forum at Santiporn Park to “kick-start a campaign to find ways to end Gen Prayut’s prolonged stay in power.”

According to Jatuporn, “the forum is organised by a support group for relatives of the Black May 1992 victims,” and he hopes it leads to a sustained campaign against Gen Prayuth. He even called on former political opponents – yellow shirts – to join if they opposed Gen Prayuth.

Thai PBS reports that Jatuporn “is proposing to bring Prayut down as well as write a ‘people’s constitution’.” He is cited:

Jatuporn blames the prime minister for the current aggressive deployment of the kingdom’s draconian lèse majesté law against activists, which just worsens the political crisis. He reiterated that this is all the more reason why Prayut must go.

To avoid more violence and casualties, as seen in recent demonstrations, Jatuporn said that either Prayut must step down or the coalition parties must withdraw from the government.

Jatuporn says that his “new group of political activists is called Samakee Prachachon, which literally translates as ‘the people united’, to support an end to the current divide and rule strategy, wherein the Prayut regime exploits political division to hang on to political power.”

Today’s event has led to much speculation.

Thai PBS reports that Jatuporn is responding “to the call, by Adul Khieuboriboon, leader of the relatives of the victims of the ‘Black May’ event in 1992, for mass protests.”

On the right, there have been mixed responses. Some thought that an anti-regime movement that did not attack the monarchy might have political traction, whereas other rightists thought that Jatuporn remained Thaksin’s puppet.

One of the mouthpieces of the anti-Thaksinistas, former ideologue at The Nation and now writing op-eds for Thai PBS, Tulsathit Taptim, describes Jatuporn “ unpredictable” and asks: “Who is Jatuporn working for?” He promotes the idea that Jatuporn “has patched things up with Thaksin…” and that Thaksin wants to move now to prevent the regime further embedding itself through the (rigged) election processes:

The Thaksin-Jatuporn theory means Prayut will face a two-pronged attack. The current youngster-led campaign will go on, dealing with all kinds of sensitive subjects such as Article 112. Jatuporn’s army, whose size remains to be seen, will deal with the prime minister directly and push for relatively less sensitive constitutional changes like the origin and powers of the Senate. One of rare positives for Prayut in this case is that a Thaksin-Jatuporn combination would keep the Democrats more firmly in the fold.

Thaksin’s name will return to the center stage, according to this popular theory….

Meanwhile, pro-democracy protester leaders told Thai Enquirer that while “the student-led movement have not yet to discussed whether or not it would join a rally called by Jatuporn,” ousting Gen Prayuth was also one of the movement’s goals. However, the students said there “should be no division [between the groups]…”.

In other words, the students insisted the attention to the monarchy to remain. Benjar Apun, a protest leader from the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD) said:

We will not interfere with what they are doing…but our goals are aligned, with or without the demand to reform the institution….

However, the UFTD will continue to demand for the reformation of the royal institution and Jatuporn’s movement also do not have the right to interfere with this demand….

She said her group would consider joining the rally but would never drop their demands to reform the institution [monarchy].

In line with that, it is interesting to observe that Nattawut Saikua, another UDD leader, just out of jail and just this week off electronic tagging, said that he “had no plans to reunite with Mr Jatuporn…”.

Jatuporn-nattawutt

Nattawut and Jatuporn in red shirt days

However, on Tuesday, he called on the “government to release pro-democracy protesters from jail and seek a peaceful resolution to the political conflict.” He then went on to affirm that “sovereign power in the country belonged to the people as everyone is equal.”

He noted that he had been charged, arrested and jailed several times, saying: “I have no regrets over the path I chose. I have been sentenced to jail three times, but I can handle it if I have to face such punishment again.”

Nattawut reaffirmed his support for the pro-democracy protesters, saying:

The country can’t move forward if the new generation is still in jail, so the government should talk with the [young protesters] to seek a peaceful solution for the country….

These two red shirt leaders might have different aims, but the thrust of their current words and activity may further promote political struggle.

Update: Few of the mainstream media reported on the rally last night – perhaps it finished too late for stories to be filed? That said, the rally was livestreamed by various outlets, including Voice TV. Various reports were of a few hundred to 3,000 attending. Based on the broadcast PPT saw, it was very much a red shirt crowd and certainly much grey hair was evident.

Thai Enquirer did editorialize:

Jatuporn’s position also means that he is estrange politically. Having moved way from the Pheu Thai Party, Jatuporn has no ready allies in parliament. Move Forward, Palang Pracharat, Bhumjai Thai all have reason to not engage with the former red shirt leader. Ironically the party most closely aligned to his views might be the Democrat Party, the very party he once took to the streets to try to overthrow.

It is unclear how much traction this new movement will gain in the coming weeks and months or whether it will at all.

But what is clear is that if Jatuporn wants to create a stir and regain the support he once had, he is going to have his work cut out for him.


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