Thai Crisis: Red Shirts lay out their response scenarios to the worse case situation

The following are two articles, one from Fairfax Press and another from South China Morning Post, discussing what the Red Shirts might do, in the worse case scenario, if the elite establishment throws a Judicial Coup or Military Coup at Yingluck.

  • Red-shirts ‘ready to resist’ Thai army coup, set up capital in Chiang Mai

Tom Fawthrop in San Kamphaeng (Source)

Wednesday, 29 January, 2014

Supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra say she may set up her government in Chiang Mai if the army takes power in Bangkok

The embattled Thai government’s hardline “red-shirt” supporters in the country’s north say they are ready to resist any attempt by the military to stage a coup.

Some supporters say they also expect popularly elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to retreat to Chiang Mai and set up government there if the army tries to take power in Bangkok amid ongoing anti-government demonstrations.

While some experts consider the government relocating an unlikely prospect, supporters like red-shirt activist Mahawang Kawang say their movement is large enough to challenge the military.

“We have no fear. All red groups will unite. We are willing to sacrifice our lives,” said Kawang, who is president of the alumni association of Yupparaj school in Chiang Mai where Yingluck was once a student.

“It is likely the government will move to Chiang Mai. We can defeat tanks because we have the numbers,” Kawang added.

Yingluck and her ruling Puea Thai party won the last election in 2011 in a landslide, thanks largely to support in the country’s north, a stronghold for her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Another election has been called for Sunday, but “yellow-shirt” protesters opposed to Yingluck and her tycoon brother have vowed to disrupt it and overthrow the government.

The yellow-shirts draw their main support from Bangkok’s middle classes, the country’s royalist elite and factions of the military. Thaksin’s rural supporters have helped him and his allies win every election since he appeared on the Thai political scene in 2001.

Thaksin was forced from power in a 2006 coup and went into exile. Corruption convictions prevent his return to Thailand. Although the army has vowed to stay out of the current red-yellow turmoil, Yingluck’s supporters eye the generals warily.

Ever since a 2010 crackdown on the red-shirts in Bangkok, thousands of villages in northern and northeast Thailand have been flying red flags.

The election is going ahead despite the anti-Thaksin movement’s campaign to disrupt polling.

Government supporter Pichit Tamoon, who is Chiang Mai general secretary for the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), said: “We have police forces on our side and together with the northeast we have the backing of 37 [out of 77] provinces. Yingluck will win.”

Red-shirt organiser Supon Fumuljaroen, a former classmate of Thaksin, is now vice-chairman of the UDD in Chiang Mai province. They both hail from the small town of San Kamphaeng, about 30 minutes’ drive from the city of Chiang Mai.

Supon, a former policeman, said: “The majority of red-shirts really like the idea of a separate state. If they stage a coup, we can live without Bangkok.”

Pinkaew Laungaramsri, a sociologist at Chiang Mai University, said the north-south divide meant that Thailand was breaking up.

But while some in the red-shirt camp envision the government setting up camp in Chiang Mai, not all observers think such an outcome is sustainable. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Southeast Asia analyst at Kyoto University, said that a breakaway state was possible but that without international recognition it was unlikely.

Ten people have been killed since the protests began in November. In a sign tension was escalating, an anti-government protest leader was shot and killed in Bangkok on Sunday as demonstrators blocked polling stations set up for early voting.

Last Wednesday, Kwanchai Praipana, a leader of the red-shirt movement, was seriously injured after an unidentified gunman opened fire as he sat reading a newspaper on his front porch. Just a day earlier, he had warned that a nationwide “fight” would ensue if the military staged another coup.

A recent report in the Bangkok Post cited red-shirts saying that their underground networks had stockpiled weapons and that they were familiar with the use of arms. But when red-shirts were asked by the South China Morning Post whether they had access to weapons, they gave mixed responses.

Kamsai Audomsi, UDD chief for San Khamphaeng and a roasted banana vendor, said: “We can’t say what we are preparing and stockpiling. We cannot speak about arms or whether we have them or not.”

UDD organiser Tamoon said: “We have no arms but we have the police force on our side.”

If there is a coup, there is a general expectation among the UDD that some middle-ranking officers based in the north will refuse to follow orders.

  • Red wave set to swamp Bangkok

Lindsay Murdoch (Source)

February 2, 2014

They plan to call the uprising from a dingy 11th floor apartment above Chiang Mai, northern Thailand’s capital.

”Be prepared. When the time comes I will call you out on to the streets,” radio host Mahawan Kawang exhorts his 50,000 listeners. ”We must be ready to defend our prime minister and our country’s democracy.”

Mahawan’s 105.5FM is one of 2000 community radio stations across northern Thailand that has a pact to call out their millions of listeners if Thailand’s embattled prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is toppled in what pro-government red shirt supporters claim is an unannounced coup underway 700 kilometres away in Bangkok.

”Don’t be afraid. In Bangkok they look down on people from the north and say we are uneducated but we must show them that democracy is for everyone … our vote gives us the same rights as their vote,” says Mahawan, a popular celebrity with amaster’s degree who is known as ”DJ Nok”.

A few kilometres away, former police senior sergeant Pichit Tamoon sips coffee outside the red-painted headquarters of the city’s red taxis and reveals plans for the mobilisation of 500,000 pro-government red shirt supporters who until now have largely remained quiet as anti-government protests have crippled Yingluck’s government and shut down parts of Bangkok in the lead-up to Sunday’s national elections, which authorities fear could turn violent.

Pichit, the red shirt co-ordinator for 17 vote-rich provinces, paints a disturbing scenario that would see northern Thailand’s political separation from Bangkok and southern provinces and almost certainly stoke further violence in the country of 64 million people.

Mahawan Kawang says the supporters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are prepared to take to the streets again.

Mahawan Kawang says the supporters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are prepared to take to the streets again.

”We will not be the ones who will start the war, but if a coup happens we will announce that we will fight,” Pichit says. ”Our groups have met and we have developed a plan to defend against an elite group that isbent on destroying our democratic system.”

Under the plan, Chiang Mai, a former ancient capital among Thailand’s highest mountains, would become a base for red shirts who would come en-masse from 37 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, Pichit says.

Yingluck, Thailand’s first woman prime minister, would evacuate to the city that is home for her powerful family – including brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister living in exile who has been the target of an eight-year campaign to purge him from Thai politics.

“People are upset. We cannot sit by and do nothing”: Anong Jaichauy.

“People are upset. We cannot sit by and do nothing”: Anong Jaichauy.

From Chiang Mai, 46-year-old Yingluck would be encouraged to keep on governing as the legitimate rival to whoever takes over in Bangkok.

Under the plan, half of the mobilised red shirts would then descend on Bangkok to confront anti-government protesters while the rest would mass in Chiang Mai.

”If we go to Bangkok the protesters on the streets now will run away,” Pichit says.

”We can outnumber them 10 times. Most of them are middle class people with money. They will not sacrifice what they have and will run to their homes for safety.”

Asked if red shirts have weapons, Pichit, a 44 year-old father of two says: ”They are all prepared but we cannot talk about it.”

In many countries it would be easy to dismiss such alarmist talk as propaganda designed to pressure political enemies.

When the Thai military launched a coup to depose Thaksin in 2006 there was a muted response from supporters in his political party that was then called Thai Rak Thai.

But long-simmering grievances have surfaced as Yingluck has been locked in brutal struggle for her political survival.

As the latest episode of Thailand’s conflict has escalated into almost daily shootings and attacks in Bangkok, red shirt leaders have confirmed the holding of strategy meetings and plans to bring their supporters on to the streets if the government falls.

They are counting on the backing of the police, where Thaksin was a senior officer until 2001 and still has support among the ranks.

In 2010 red shirts occupied the centre of Bangkok for months before a bloody crackdown that left at least 90 people dead and hundreds injured.

And militants in underground wings of the red shirt movement have been quoted in Thai media as saying they have stockpiled weapons and ammunition in Bangkok and surrounding areas, matching intelligence reports cited by the Thai military.

Pichit says red shirts have remained patient and low key in the crisis so far ”because we don’t want to cause more problems for Yingluck”.

He says they believe unnamed powerful interests are orchestrating the fall of the government by either military intervention or judicial coup.

In recent weeks Thailand’s courts have been unusually active in taking on cases against Yingluck and members of her Pheu Thai party, while the military – maintaining its neutrality for the moment – has staged 18 coups or attempted coups since the 1930s and shares the establishment’s loathing of Thaksin.

On the eve of Sunday’s election only candidates supporting the government and red shirts have campaigned on the streets of Chiang Mai, a city of 200,000 where the main opposition Democrat party – which is boycotting the polls nation-wide – does not even have an office.

Yingluck is promising reform and compromise before calling another election in about a year.

With voters in her party’s rural bastions likely to turn out in force, victory seems certain but she will face a raft of legal challenges as she tries to form a new government.

Attending a candlelight vigil held to urge election non-violence, Somchai Chanawan, 63, a former civil engineer who runs a coffee shop in Chiang Mai, says most people in northern Thailand want to defend the country’s democratic values but there are differing views on how to do it.

”I believe in using bare hands … that is, casting with my vote. I want my vote to have rights. How can they take away my right to vote?” he asks, referring to threats by protesters to block people going into polling stations on Sunday.

Even if polling goes ahead smoothly in most areas, protesters say they will continue their campaign aimed at destroying the Shinawatra family’s power at a time of deep concern over the health of 86 year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the future royal transition in the country where the monarchy remains extremely influential.

While based in a luxurious mansion in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence over a 2006 corruption conviction, Thaksin – with a fortune estimated at $US1.7 billion – has bought and sold Manchester City football club, acted as an economics adviser to developing countries, operated mining ventures in Africa, launched a lottery in Uganda and met the late Nelson Mandala.

But Thaksin continues to wield huge influence in Thailand, where his enemies demonise him but where he is adored as a hero by many, particularly those in rural areas such as north-eastern Isan, the country’s poorest region.

”I love Thaksin because he has brought many ideas that have helped us … he has good vision,” says Anong Jaichauy, a 56-year-old mother of two from a poor rice farming family in Sampatong district, 30 kilometres south of Chiang Mai.

When he was prime minister, Thaksin, 64, implemented cheap health care, easy consumer credit and low-interest loans to 70,000 villages.

Yingluck went further when she was elected in 2011, introducing tax rebates for first-time car and house buyers, higher minimum wages and a costly rice subsidy scheme, which government critics call ”Thaksonomics” and which they claim is a form of corruption.

Holding a photograph of herself with Thaksin, Anong says she is ready to lead villagers to Bangkok to defend Yingluck, sleeping on the footpath the same as she did during red shirt protests in 2010.

”Look around. We see all the trouble on the television every day and people no longer smile,” she says. ”People are upset. We cannot sit by and do nothing.”

Another of Thaksin’s initiatives was to grant licences for communities to have their own radio stations which Mahawan, the radio host, describes as a ground-breaking way to empower impoverished villages.

”When Thaksin was overthrown in 2006 my listeners were calling in incensed that a democratically elected leader could be treated that way,” says Mahawan, 47.

”There were also calls into radio stations across north and north-eastern provinces and they became known as red stations which were reflecting the views of listeners,” he says. Soon after the coup, soldiers raided Mahawan’s station, took away his equipment and kept him off air for two years. Other red stations were also closed.

But Mahawan says this time the military will not be able to silence him in the event of a coup. ”They wouldn’t dare … the feeling of people is now too strong …”

One thought on “Thai Crisis: Red Shirts lay out their response scenarios to the worse case situation

  1. While I support the pro-democracy movement in Thailand and am totally opposed to the anti-government mobs and the “Democrat” Party, the prospect of breaking up Thailand along North-South lines has less chance of success than the Confederates had of seceding from the Union.

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