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On Sunday, former red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan and his followers rallied in Bangkok against the government of Prayut Chan-ocha. Eleven years after he led the red shirts to a climatic confrontation on the streets of Bangkok, the charismatic leader was back on stage talking about the need to oust the government.
What made it different this time was that he was joined by several yellow-shirt leaders and protesters as well. It seems that the government of Prayut Chan-ocha has done the impossible and united mortal enemies towards a single cause.
One could say that Prayut’s promise of reconciliation was finally fulfilled six long years after he took power in a military coup with yellow-shirts and red-shirts finally joining hands. Although it is doubtful that Prayut could have predicted in 2014 that they would be joining hands to try and get rid of his government, it is to his credit that they are finally united.
But while the sight was certainly something to behold, the question that needs to be asked is whether the Thai political conversation had moved beyond both groups and whether there is any space or appetite for them to return.
There was certainly a time when the yellows and the reds could bring the entire country to a standstill but those days are long past, it seems.
Sunday’s rally, dampened by rain and a long weekend, drew only a few hundred supporters. While the crowd was enthusiastic, it remains to be seen whether Jatuporn can draw a mass amount of followers to his ‘Octoberist’ movement.
If anything, judging by the conversations happening inside the opposition parties and in the student chatrooms, Thai politics have evolved beyond the red and yellow divide.
Let us not forget that the main difference between both groups was their advocacy or opposition to the rule of the Shinawatra family.
To the yellow shirts, Thaksin was a corrupt anti-monarchist who deserved to be exiled. To the red shirts, Thaksin was a working class hero who engendered a political awakening and supported the grassroots.
But like the Shinawatras, the red and yellows seem to be a thing of the past. Student leaders interviewed by Thai Enquirer expressed the sentiment quite clearly in their lukewarm response to Jatuporn’s rally. (Read more here)
If anything, Jatuporn’s position has been exposed as being in a no-man’s land and not particularly appealing to any side that are currently dominating the headlines.
While the former red-shirt leader has been extremely opposed to the rule of Prayut, his firm loyalty to the conservative institutions and the crown has put him at odds with the student leaders who have sacrificed much to advance their own rhetoric of reform and democracy.
Meanwhile, his opposition to Prayut and the former coup leaders means that there can be no alliance with the other royalist groups like Thai Pakdee who insist that Prayut was and is the best hope to save the institution against the student onslaught.
Jatuporn’s position also means that he is estranged politically. Having moved away from the Pheu Thai Party, Jatuporn has no ready allies in parliament. Move Forward, Palang Pracharat, Bhumjai Thai all have reason to not engage with the former red shirt leader. Ironically the party most closely aligned to his views might be the Democrat Party, the very party he once took to the streets to try to overthrow.
It is unclear how much traction this new movement will gain in the coming weeks and months or whether it will at all.
But what is clear is that if Jatuporn wants to create a stir and regain the support he once had, he is going to have his work cut out for him.