United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) Chairman Jatuporn Promphan attempted to rekindle old alliances from the 1992 uprising into a coalition against Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha on Sunday. It comes at a critical juncture with the government-sponsored referendum bill due in parliament in April for its third reading with fears that if it is voted down, the government will fall.

A last gasp effort to oppose the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha took place in Bangkok on Sunday as the veteran opposition activist and Chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, has called on all strands of the political spectrum to unite and focus on toppling General Prayut who has been in government since 2014 and looks like he is well placed to win a third term under current constitutional arrangements which are proving very difficult to alter. 

A new front was opened up on Sunday in the byzantine struggle that is currently Thai politics as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) Chairman, Jatuporn Promphan, became a key player in a movement hoping to emerge from a meeting at Santiporn Park on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue in Bangkok.

Scenes from this Sunday’s rally in Bangkok where Redshirt and United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader Jatuporn Promphan (left) hoped to forge an alliance and a new movement aiming to topple Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha (right) as the constitutional reform process flounders in parliament and the student-led protest movement has fizzled into inaction.

Mr Jatuporn who has long criticised the student-led Ratsadon movement for its attacks on the monarchy and in so doing lost political support among many opposition activists, is hoping he can engineer a broader coalition with the sole aim of toppling the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.

Veteran of the Black May heave aims to lead another popular movement against the current government 

The Redshirt leader who was a young student activist in the bloody May 1992 protests known as the ‘Black May’ uprising against the government of Suchinda Kraprayoon and one of the key leaders in the 2009 and 2010 Redshirt struggle against the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, is hoping to bring together both Redshirt and Yellow shirt activists of old with a defined common purpose.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha is the ‘core of all the problems’ says UDD Chairman Jatuporn

In a Facebook broadcast on March 31st, he described the current Prime Minister, who has been in power effectively since May 2014, as ‘the core of all the problems the country faces.’ 

Mr Jatuporn added: ‘his ouster will enable those problems to be resolved’.

On Saturday, the Redshirt leader admitted that his task is an uphill one as he called for supporters to rally to the cause.

‘I hope the Redshirts, the PAD and the PDRC who agree with the campaign will join and announce their stance before we turn tomorrow into a demonstration to oust General Prayut.’

Seminar themed ‘Thai Mai Thon’ or ‘Impatient Thais’

The seminar event held on Sunday was themed ‘Thai Mai Thon’ or ‘Impatient Thais’ and was organised by Mr Adul Khiewboriboon whose 20-year-old son was killed in the 1992 protests.

He heads up a committee of relatives of those who died in the uprising from the 17th to the 20th May 1992 in which up to 200,000 people took part leading to countless deaths and over 3,500 arrests during a brutal crackdown.

1992 uprising was calmed by the intervention on May 20th 1992 by King Bhumibol Adulyadej 

The uprising has parallels to today’s political situation as, at the time, the government was also attempting to pass constitutional reform measures. 

The violent uprising was finally brought to an end by the decisive intervention of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej who asked the two sides to stand back from the brink and work together leading to a resolution of the conflict.

Deputy PM Wongsuwan is not perturbed 

On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan indicated that the government was not concerned about the new movement, at this point, from a security point of view.

He said intelligence sources did not suggest any violence was being planned.

‘No matter how the gathering turns out, just don’t break the law,’ he urged.

Asked by reporters who he suspected was behind the initiative, the insouciant top official and Palang Pracharat Party leader told them to ‘go and find for yourselves’.

The Metropolitan Police Bureau Chief, Police Lieutenant General Pakkapong Pongpetra, also confirmed that he was satisfied that Deputy Chief Piya Tawichai had the resources he needed to police the event which sought permission from the police.

Mixed opinion about Mr Jatuporn’s move with a tepid response as activists see him as a faded figure

There is, reportedly, very mixed opinion in opposition circles about the move with many within Pheu Thai, the main political party in Thailand sitting on the opposition benches and the Redshirts, still throwing their way behind the student movement.

One source within Pheu Thai during the week talked of the ‘dwindling support’ for Mr Jatuporn although there is respect for his long track record as an opposition activist.

He indicated that this was an attempt by the activist to rebuild his credibility following the UDD leader’s criticism of the latest wave of student-led protests because of their calls for reform of the monarchy and his inactivity on the issue of constitutional reform since the March 2019 election, after which he urged his supporters to be patient until a street movement with mass momentum emerged. It never did.

Nattawut Saikuar, a key Redshirt leader just released from prison, for his part in a violent protest which targeted the house of now deceased former Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda in 2007, a long time ally of Mr Jatuporn, has indicated that he intends to play no part in the movement being formed by his former ally.

United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship Chairman has been linked with Vice Minister Seksakol Atthawong at the Prime Minister’s Office

This is despite an offer from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) Chairman to hand over his position to Mr Nattawut if he joins the current political heave.

Mr Jatuporn is also, according to some opposition sources, known to be close to Mr Seksakol Atthawong, a former Redshirt figure who is currently a Vice Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office. 

Referendum bill being reviewed by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam after amendments

All this is happening against the background of a referendum bill which is sponsored by the government as part of its constitutional reform programme, being guided through parliament.

The proposed bill is being looked at closely by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the government’s legal expert, after opposition sponsored amendments to Section 9 of the provision were passed by parliament last month.

The bill provides for the government to call a referendum to commence a constitutional reform process. 

If the proposed reform bill is defeated, the Thai government will fall leading to a General Election

However, the changes made by the opposition, according to some legal experts, make the bill suspect under the provisions of the 2017 Constitution which suggested that only the government could take the initiative to amend the charter. 

The amended section provided for public demands for constitutional reform from outside parliament, to be put to a referendum.

The concern is that if the government is defeated on this bill, it may provoke a General Election with a caretaker government left in place until the election result is announced and a new parliament votes for a new Prime Minister.

As things currently stand, this would, more than likely, be General Prayut Chan ocha given healthy support for the Palang Pracharat Party as well as other governing parties and the power of senators to vote as part of the assembly.

Pass the bill and then make amendments

If passed, which is what Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu is urging MPs with the government parties to do, it may also find itself tested before the court or as the government’s legal eagle proposes, it could be amended again by parliament effectively reversing the opposition victory in recent weeks.

Bhunjaithai and Democrat parties in the spotlight as constitutional reform efforts flounder in parliament

The process in parliament to rewrite the constitution is increasingly looking like an effort fraught with danger and complications.

After the defeat of the opposition’s bill to amend the constitution in March which many feared was already unconstitutional due to a prior court decision, the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, Anutin Charnvirakul, suggested that there was no need to alter the charter at all as the key provision relating to the Senate will expire naturally in the course of time under the constitution’s own provisions.

His party, along with the Democrat Party, campaigned in the 2019 General Election on a platform that included rewriting the constitution. 

Public is not focused on rewriting the charter

However, the absence of support for the street led protests which have fizzled in recent weeks, shows that the issue is not uppermost on the minds of the Thai public right now grappling with a tight economy and hoping for improvement this year.

A National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll at the end of March did, however, suggest that 59% of Thais would like to see a new constitution.

However, another (NIDA) poll in August 2020 showed over 56% of Thais felt that changing the constitution would have little or a highly uncertain impact on the political scene while 44% thought it might.

Thai Senate still retains its controversial powers under Section 272 of the 2017 Thai constitution

As things currently stand, however, the Thai Senate is still empowered, under Section 272 of the 2017 Constitution, to vote on the next government and this is likely to lead to a third term in power for Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha if it is called.

This is why Mr Jatuporn is making his move now although many observers say it has little chance of success in the current climate.

 ‘I hope the Redshirts, the PAD and the PDRC who agree with the campaign will join and announce their stance before we turn it into a demonstration to oust General Prayut,’ he said on Saturday.

They say a week is a long time in politics except things can often change even more quickly in Thai politics where nothing may happen for years and then suddenly change overnight.

However, it is unlikely that Mr Jatuporn’s planned movement will be an overnight success.

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Further reading:

PM left master of the field as constitutional reform moves stall with street protests quieted

Constitutional Court rules in PM’s favour, says that there is no basis for his removal from office over home

Future Forward Party dissolved – leadership banned from politics by Constitutional Court order

Parliament to debate PM’s oath-taking question which is also referred to the Constitutional Court

PM to be elected Prime Minister under key constitutional provisions by the end of May as new era begins

Thailand seeks less rancour as it counts down to its first election under the new Constitution

Radical new Thai constitution now in the hands of the Thai people who vote in August

Rejection of draft constitution means extended military rule