BANGKOK — Redshirts are expected to join the upcoming anti-government protest on Oct. 14 in large numbers, though some activists said the chance of them “co-opting” the leadership from the student movement is unlikely.
A growing number of Redshirts, a network loyal to ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his political dynasty, was seen in recent rallies supposedly organized by student campaigners – several observers said their presence even outnumbered student demonstrators.
And that’s a good thing, according to Redshirt activist Anurak Jeantawanich.
“We Redshirts have a common understanding with other protesters,” Anurak, aka Ford Red Path, said in an interview. “We came as fellow demonstrators and supporters, to protect, offer advice but not as an organizer or going up on the stage.”
Another activist, Sombat Boon-ngam-anong, said the Redshirt presence among what the media often described as “student protests” will help build solidarity between the Redshirts and younger generations.
“There will be a link to past events at Ratchaprasong Intersection in 2010,” Sombat said, referring to the military crackdown on Redshirt protesters 10 years ago. “They are politically alert and they follow news on social media. It reflects a rising freedom in discussion about the monarchy that has been pent up for the past 10 years.”
Independent activist Chotisak Onsoong said there’s little chance of the Redshirts actually taking control of the movement or pushing their agendas in the student-led rallies.
“This should not be viewed as reds taking over,” said Chotisak, who noted that some key activists in the protest movement were already members of the Redshirts from the outset.
Redshirt activist and former lese-majeste convict Somyot Prueksakasemsuk said he has yet to receive any invitation to speak at any rallies organized by the student movement.
“Reds have no capacity to take over,” Somyot said by phone.
Redshirts are believed to have outnumbered the student demonstrators at the recent gatherings at Sanam Luang and Parliament. Somyot estimated that 60 percent of participants of those rallies were Redshirts, while Sombat put it at a lower ratio, 20-30 percent.
Several Redshirt organizations have announced in recent days that they will mobilize their supporters and travel to Bangkok and join the rally on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Oct. 14. Protest leaders said they demand the government’s resignation, a new election, and amendments to the 2017 Constitution.
The government has warned the protesters not to break any laws.