The leadership change at the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) could be a "game-changer", giving rise to the possibility of civil strife and the country heading towards disintegration, some fear.
Jatuporn Promphan has replaced Thida Thavonseth as head of the UDD.
“This war is long and drawn out where sometimes we have to be on the offensive and other times defensive – but one thing we all agree is, we will never allow ourselves to be defeated,” Thida said at a major red-shirt rally last week in Ayuthaya.
“Jatuporn Promphan has said he has fully recovered from sickness and is ready to take over the chairmanship of the UDD, so please welcome the new UDD leader at the time of battle,” she said.
Thida’s remarks were greeted by chanting and fireworks, signifying a new era in the red “struggle”.
The UDD, under Jatuporn’s leadership, is expected to strike more aggressively and with well-planned moves. It has outlined strategies aimed at unifying all factions of the red-shirt movement and expand its base nationwide through the establishment of committees at all levels – from provinces to districts and tambons to villages.
Their first mission is to set up UDD political schools across the country.
Critics view the formation of the Democracy Protection Volunteers’ (DPV) as a potential “game-changer” too. The organisation has just been formed by red-shirt leader Suporn Atthawong, who is also PM’s deputy secretary-general, and hardcore red shirt Kwanchai Praipana. The DPV aims to mobilise 10,000 members per province across the country.
A seminar was held on Tuesday outlining DPV’s strategies, which was attended by red-shirt leaders from the Northeast. Their key objective is to counter possible coups in any form.
Suporn denied that his new group would embark on arms training and brainstorming on separation of the state.
“We only want to arm people with intelligence and provide them self-defence skills and physical fitness training,’’ Suporn said.
The move to unify the red-shirt factions is needed to get the organisation to move in one direction because after Thida took over the leadership, 20 red-shirt leaders who had joined hands in the struggle were divided into four factions led by Jatuporn, caretaker Deputy Commerce Minister Nuttawut Saikuar, Thida and Weng Tojirakarn. They were the core red factions after the May red-shirt riots in 2010.
The red-shirt movement is not without undercurrent figures, which include Waipoj Apornrat, Payap Shinawatra, Wanchana Kerd-dee, Shinawatra Habunpad and Suporn.
The number of red-shirt factions seems to be great and are not controlled by UDD directly as they have their own areas of control.
However, the movement could be classified into the following five big groups, with each having several sub-groups.
The Royal Red Force, run by the UDD, the Community Radio Red Shirts, the Independent Red Shirts, the Provincial Red Shirts, who are the major force for the red shirts in the capital, and the Underground Red Shirts. Most of the Underground Red Shirts are based overseas and have the major goal of overthrowing the feudal system.
The DPV is to be reckoned with because it is well-financed and led by the real commanders equipped with a fighting spirit and strategies – Kwanchai and Suporn.