As Thai armed forces call crisis meeting, Red Shirts insist they will not back down



At the Red Shirt rally an hour east of Bangkok, there was lots of music, an abundance of fried chicken and countless people insisting they would not back down from what they said was a fight for Thailand’s democracy.

“This is not just about Mr Thaksin. He is a factor but there are other issues as well,” said Krittapat Ratanasong, an English teacher from Bangkok. “We are fighting for truth and fairness.”

The thousands of people gathering under tents and makeshift shelters every day are part of a movement that has been victorious in Thailand’s last six elections. They would likely be successful again, if there were to be another.

Instead, the so-called Red Shirts, who have largely backed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup, say that their opponents have given up on electoral democracy because they have been repeatedly beaten.

The anti-government protesters, known as the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and whose relentless protests have debilitated the administration and helped create a situation that led the army to declare martial law, want to have a “neutral” prime minister appointed. They claim elections are pointless because they are rigged and have called for reform of the system before fresh elections are held.

The Red Shirts, meanwhile, insist the only constitutional and fair way of choosing Thailand’s leader is by having a vote.

“The anti-government protesters never demonstrate for democracy,” said Payom Phetwisate, the wife of a police officer, who has been visiting the rally site for the past 10 days. “We want democracy. We want everyone to be equal.”


The Red Shirts have intentionally held their rally – listening to songs and speeches and filling-up on freshly cooked meals - outside of Bangkok and away from the PDRC in order to avoid clashes. Almost 30 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since the anti-government protests took hold last November.

But from this location they have been watching the developments playing out in Bangkok and the declaration of martial law by the head of the armed forces, Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha. The Red Shirts believe that for now, Gen Prayuth’s actions do not represent a coup, but were he to try and get rid of the caretaker civilian administration, he would be crossing a line into unconstitutionality.

“The only solution for the problem is to become a democratic country. And to do that we need a fair, equal election,” said Red Shirt leader Sonwang Asarasee.

The Red Shirt strongholds are generally considered to be in the north and north-east of Thailand and the Red Shirts themselves to mainly be be rural Thais. They are often mocked as “buffaloes” by the anti-government protesters.

But the rally site east of Bangkok underscored the fact that many in the capital city, some of them middle class professionals, also support the government. That support is not blind, however; they have criticised several recent decisions taken by both the government and Mr Thaksin, including an attempt to introduce an amnesty bill that would have allowed the former premier to return from exile in Dubai.

On Wednesday, the Red Shirts at Salaya were keenly following the news as Gen Prayuth summoned the rival factions in the nation’s stand-off for a meeting at a military sports club. He said the idea was to try and broker a compromise. It was the first face-to-face meeting of the various groups for six months and would have been all but impossible without the order coming from the army chief.

The different groups included representatives from the government, the Phua Thai party associated with former prime minister Mr Thaksin, the Red Shirts, headed by Jatuporn Prompan, the opposition Democrat party, headed by former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the upper house of the parliament and the anti-government protesters, headed by Suthep Thaugsuban. Representatives of the country’s election commission were also invited.

Afterwards, the Thai military said the meeting had been held in a good atmosphere and that people had been smiling, although there had been no immediate breakthrough. The parties will reconvene on Thursday, having been given “homework” by Gen Prayuth – five separate issues to consider in consultation with their supporters. “They understand we have to work together,” said army spokesman Col Werachon Sukondhapatipak.

Asked by The Independent whether or not the military believed a solution to the stand-off could be found without an election, Mr Werachon said: “This country is a democracy and we respect the democratic process... But we need to sort out the problems before there can be an election.”

The brokering of the meeting by Gen Prayuth move appears to indicate the military’s intention to broaden its role in the crisis and not to satisfy itself simply overseeing law and order, as it initially said was its plan. Campaigners and some government supporters insist the army’s actions represent a de facto coup.

While continuing to insist its actions do not represent a coup, the army has shut down a number of media outlets and issued a series of orders, among them being that people should not negatively discuss the decision to impose martial law. It has also warned the media not broadcast any material that could be damaging to national security. On Wednesday evening, it was reported that anything on social media that incited violence or opposition would be censored.

After the meeting, it emerged the various groups had been asked by Gen Prayuth to consider five points –including whether or not there should be a referendum to decide if an election proceeds before or after reforms, the timing of such an election and the role of the caretaker government.

Deputy prime minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, who did not attend the meeting but who was briefed on the proceedings, said the government still wished to have an election on 3 August  though he admitted it might not be possible.

Asked as to whether he considered the imposition of martial law to be a coup, he said: “At this time, it does not amount to a coup because they are trying to apply the martial law act. When there is a coup, the coup leader considers himself sovereign. So far, they are trying to apply existing law.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower