BANGKOK — Leaders of the Redshirts umbrella group, who is now largely inactive, are debating whether to disband the organization for good.
The suggestion to dissolve the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD, was first raised by its chairman Jatuporn Prompan several weeks ago, but former UDD chairwoman Thida Thavornseth resisted the move and accused Jatuporn of failing to maintain UDD’s relevance in the political arena.
“No meeting has been held for two years,” Thida said Thursday. “I don’t know if there’s any intention to reduce the role of the UDD. I don’t know if that’s intentional.”
Thida also said any decision concerning the fate of UDD should only be made after consulting members of the group, and she will start a month-long survey with 5,000 Redshirt supporters, both online and offline, to gauge their opinions.
“The UDD is not a property of a single person to decide its fate,” she said. Questions in the survey will include whether the organization should be dissolved altogether, or a new set of leadership is needed.
The UDD was founded in 2007 by politicians loyal to former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
The organization staged numerous street protests aimed at bringing him back to power and calling for new elections, most notably in 2009 and 2010, which resulted in military operations to disperse the protesters. The crackdown in 2010 left at least 90 people dead, most of them civilians and demonstrators.
UDD leadership was also decimated following another coup in 2014, which brought PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to power. Although many Redshirt supporters joined the anti-government protests organized by student activists in 2020, UDD leaders have largely stayed on the sideline.
Citing the increasing irrelevance, Jatuporn said it might be the time to “pass on the baton” from Redshirts to the new generations, who are demanding PM Prayut’s resignation as well as monarchy reforms.
“It’s like we have been relay running for 300 meters over the years and we don’t want to go on to complete the 400 meters finished line,” Jatuporn said by phone. “So if we keep the baton, I think it’s irresponsible.”
Jatuporn said the youth-led movement last year, chiefly including the Free Youth and the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, have shattered the ceiling of political demands that includes reforms of the royal institution, so he no longer sees the need for the existence of the UDD.
“Some Redshirts joined the protest on their own. They have bypassed the redshirt leaders,” he said. “This is how far we have come. Others can walk further so we should hand over our legacy.”
The UDD chairman offered a similar argument in a video interview posted in late December.
“In today’s situations, it’s the mission for the young people to lead their country forward. That’s why I think our existence is pointless, because the situation has changed,” Jatuporn said in a Facebook Live. “Redshirts have scattered to different political parties since the last election.”
He added, “The longer we stay, the more political problem we’ll become, and it doesn’t benefit any movement.”
Since it is not registered as a formal association under any legal entity, the UDD does not have a legally binding constitution that may provide an answer to how the organization may be disbanded.
Prominent Redshirt activist Anurak Jeantawanich, aka Ford Redpath, said he would oppose any attempt to dissolve the UDD.
Speaking by phone, Anurak said the large number of Redshirt protesters at anti-government rallies in 2020 prove that the movement is still a force to reckon with, and what the UDD needs is a new leadership with new strategies.
“Redshirts are against the dissolution of the UDD,” he said, citing an informal online survey that he conducted. “As for Jatuporn, I don’t want to use the word fired, but I’d like to ask him to leave.”