Thai ‘red shirts’ prepare rally to back PM

Thai ‘red shirts’ prepare rally to back PM
Move comes after anti-government protesters ignore call for elections
Published: 3:13 PM, December 11, 2013
Updated: 9:30 AM, December 12, 2013

BANGKOK — The red-shirted supporters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said today (Dec 11) they could take to the streets to protect the government from protesters who have forced her to call a snap election, setting the scene for a possible confrontation.

The warning by the “red shirts” highlights the risks ahead as anti-government protesters keep pushing to eradicate the political influence of Ms Yingluck’s brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a hero in the rural north and northeast who was toppled by the military in 2006.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister in the previous government that Ms Yingluck’s ruling party beat by a landslide in 2011, has ignored her call for a snap election to be held on Feb 2.

He wants Thailand to be governed by an unelected “people’s council” made up of appointed “good people”. Such an unprecedented move alone would potentially spark conflict with Ms Yingluck’s red-shirted supporters in the country of 66 million.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), as the red shirts are known, could rally to protect the government, said Mr Jatuporn Promphan, one of its leaders.

“It is the UDD’s job to bring together en masse the red shirts and those who love democracy and don’t agree with Suthep’s methods. There will be many more people than Suthep managed to gather,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Mr Suthep, who a few weeks ago resigned the parliamentary seat he had held for 34 years, derives support from a small but powerful minority: The royalist elite in Bangkok and the opposition Democrats, the country’s oldest party, who have failed to win an election since 1992.

In 2010, he authorised a crackdown by security forces that left downtown Bangkok burning and killed scores of red shirts, who say they remain supportive of Ms Yingluck and her billionaire brother Mr Thaksin, who lives in self-exile to avoid jail for abuse of power charges that he says were politically motivated.

Mr Thaksin is widely seen as the power behind Ms Yingluck’s government, sometimes holding meetings with the cabinet by webcam. They have huge support in the countryside because of pro-poor policies and any party associated with Mr Thaksin stands a good chance of winning the election.

“When Suthep speaks he should bear in mind that there are millions of Thais who love Thaksin and love the Shinawatra family,” Mr Thida Thawornseth, the top UDD leader, told Reuters.

“Where does Suthep come off thinking he can speak on behalf of all Thais?” she added. “Suthep has said Yingluck cannot go anywhere in Thailand without being insulted. What about him? He is the one who should be worried.” REUTERS