23 May 2024

The Pheu Thai Party has decided to spar with Jatuporn Prompan only, but did it really have the choice of going toe to toe with him in full scale? The man is a battle-hardened political activist who faced real bullets, campaigned as real fires were raging around him and went to prison five times, so a war of words with ordinary politicians must be the least of his concerns.

Of course, it’s now the case of one man’s words against those of a political party which is tipped to score a landslide election victory. That one man, however, has nothing to lose, and in any battle, he is the type of enemies everyone will try to avoid. He is someone who can spill the beans, or bring the dirty linen out and wash it in public.

Jatuporn admits that Pheu Thai would go ahead and win the general election impressively no matter what. But he also virtually threatens to die fighting, and he is attacking the party where it hurts, its controversial patriarch living in Dubai whom he once literally risked his life and personal freedom for.

Thaksin Shinawatra will loom over Pheu Thai’s future mandate, and unless he drastically changes his thinking or attitude, a dozen more Prayuts would come out to either try to stop him or take advantage, according to Jatuporn. Thailand would then be back to Square One and Thaksin will be responsible for that as much as his enemies, the activist said. He asked if it was worth it for Pheu Thai “to win three years only for Thailand to lose 10 years.”

It’s a stinging criticism, coming from a former flag bearer of Thaksin. It’s true that Jatuporn does not command the kind of masses he used to control, and it’s also true that the exact same criticism has been made constantly. Yet political enemies saying it is one thing, but a former most-trusted lieutenant saying it is quite another.

Jatuporn has been all over the place over the past few years, embodying contradictions and ironies. Ones can be forgiven for asking if he stands for any ideology. But while his activities can negatively affect his credibility, they can also have the opposite effect, depending on how they are looked at.

He criticised the “Orange Revolution”, or, to be more specific, its young participants, saying that the fight for democracy could end up with the activists becoming their own worst enemies. Yet he led a separate street protest against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Jatuporn harshly attacked the pro-red-shirt United States over Vietnam, Taiwan and forceful diplomacy that he said dragged allies including Thailand into confronting nations that Washington does not like.

Even Jatuporn’s current outburst is marked with statements that seem to contradict one another. He said he had always fought for Thaksin’s return but the activist also criticised the Pheu Thai Party’s doomed amnesty bill for being designed to help Thaksin apart from street activists of the red shirt movement.

While Jatuporn urged Pheu Thai to place national interests above anything else, he appeared to want the political divide to linger because he deemed a Pheu Thai-Palang Pracharath rumoured alliance a great betrayal.

According to Jatuporn, such an alliance would further add insult to the injury of the red shirts which he suggested constituted Thailand’s righteous movement that Thaksin has treated badly. The activist challenged Pheu Thai to issue a strong confirmation that it would never form a government with Palang Pracharath. He suggested that he so far had only seen “soft denials” intended to “dupe” voters.

Whatever the intention, Pheu Thai has continued to make those “soft denials.” Discussing Jatuporn this week, deputy party leader Suthin Klangsaeng said Pheu Thai supporters would be listened to when it comes to picking future partners. He praised Move Forward, but only ceremoniously and the latter surely wants to hear more. And he, just like Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Thaksin’s daughter and the party’s young, brightest star, did not rule out Palang Pracharath.

Thaksin’s relationship with Jatuporn has always been a roller-coaster, which currently is plunging lower and lower. The man fought with Thaksin several times in the past, but major conflicts would fade away like they never happened. This prompted speculation about “business conflicts” between the two that could be solved with mutual interests.

In 2020, Thaksin’s online message bemoaned “abandonment”. It was directed at Jatuporn as the latter was tumultuously backing a candidate in an upcoming Provincial Administrative Organisation in Chiang Mai against the Pheu Thai Party’s choice. In earlier conflicts with Jatuporn, Thaksin was always quiet publicly.

“I have heard that a lot of people who have walked away from the Pheu Thai Party are turning to attack their former home,” Thaksin tweeted at the time. In an apparent response to Jatuporn’s statement that people who “sacrificed themselves” fighting for the party and ending up in jail had always been mistreated by Pheu Thai, Thaksin said “I have been doing my utmost to fulfil the ideological aim I promised my brothers and sisters. I have been fighting and have lost a lot in the process, not least
(the right to) stay with my family and people I love.”

So, Jatuporn’s latest criticism is not quite new, and Pheu Thai could have pointed to Thaksin’s 2020 statement and asked Jatuporn what more Thaksin could do apart from an exile away from family, relatives and friends.

For now, the strongest response to Jatuporn seems to have come from Thaksin, who left little doubt who he was referring to when talking about dog barking and ear cleaner. When Jatuporn heard that, he said something like “every pack needs an alpha.”

In Bangkok, Pheu Thai’s Jatuporn strategy is to roll with his punches without throwing anything heavy back. Nuttawut Saikua, the man who fought alongside Jatuporn during the turbulent red-shirt uprising in 2010, said Pheu Thai would rather concentrate on the goal of an election landslide.

Just as Nuttawut was trying to calm things down, Jatuporn hurled another onslaught against Thaksin. The latest Facebook Live, titled “There Are No Liars Who Don’t Sin”, followed up on his previous attack on the man in Dubai. Jatuporn now claimed ex-commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and ex-deputy commerce minister Phum Saraphol were “duped” into staying in Thailand to face court verdicts sentencing them to long jail terms, whereas ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, joined the overseas exile.

Nuttawut did admit that Jatuporn’s claims might affect red shirts’ feelings toward the party. Suthin also said the same thing, but he sought to point out that while red shirts are important, they are just part of Pheu Thai’s power base.

Jatuporn is an old-fashioned loose cannon. It can go dud, or explode unexpectedly to cause unpredictable damage to unpredictable victims.

Conspiracy theories are sprouting up. According to one, Jatuporn is on a mission to prevent a massive Pheu Thai landslide. This is a very ironic theory, in fact, because containing Pheu Thai is almost the same as containing the red shirts, whose loyalty to Thaksin the activist has sought to empasise.

Having said that, virtually everything about Jatuporn is ironic.

By Tulsathit Taptim