24 July 2024

The old saying “there are no permanent friends or foes in politics” has been proven true once again.

Jatuporn Prompan, an activist/politician and a long-time loyal ally of the Shinawatra political clan, recently spoke out against the family’s “big sister”, accusing her of meddling which triggered the collapse of the two governments led by Shinawatra siblings – Thaksin and Yingluck.

The prominent red-shirt leader made the claim while campaigning for the re-election of Chiang Mai’s provincial administrative organisation (PAO) chief, Boonlert Buranupakorn.

Jatuporn said Boonlert was unfairly branded a traitor by politicians from Thaksin’s proxy Pheu Thai Party for contesting against the Pheu Thai candidate.

While insisting he had no problems with Thaksin, Jatuporn blamed the unnamed big sister for the “false accusation” and then linked her to “missteps” that saw the downfall of Thaksin and Yingluck’s administrations.

Pheu Thai’s candidate for the post of Chiang Mai PAO chief was Pichai Lertpong-adisorn, who had received Thaksin’s blessing. Just days before the December 20 election, the ex-PM, now in self-exile overseas, issued a handwritten letter asking Chiang Mai voters to support his favoured candidate.

Pichai’s campaign was backed by key Pheu Thai figures including former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, whose wife Yaowapa is Thaksin’s younger sister.

Jatuporn, meanwhile, came under fierce attack for promoting a candidate not favoured by Thaksin and Pheu Thai. The political assault came mostly from Pheu Thai politicians and fellow red-shirt leaders with whom he had previously seen eye to eye on numerous political issues.

Called a traitor

Jatuporn was branded a “traitor” and “lackey of the military”, and the attacks continued even after his candidate lost by a small margin – which some observers described as a “disappointing victory” for Thaksin and Pheu Thai.

On Thursday (Jan 7) Jatuporn took action, filing a police complaint against some 200 netizens he accused of posting false information and defamatory abuse against him. Calling the online attacks part of a concerted attempt to destroy his reputation, he vowed “many hundred more cases” in the coming weeks.

Jatuporn, 55, is chairman of the pro-Thaksin National United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), better known as the “red shirts”.

Recently he began pushing for the UDD to disband and pass the baton on to the young-generation protesters now battling for democracy. That push drew another barrage of criticism – this time that he was betraying fellow red shirts.

Jatuporn said he would discuss the disbandment with other UDD leaders. “In my view, the UDD should come to an end and take its place in history. Don’t try to cling on to the past.”

‘Time to move aside’

The UDD had done its part in what he compared to a relay run, said the red-shirt leader, adding it was time to let the young protesters do their job.

“We have to admit the truth: they can outrun us. Let’s pass our remaining strength to them,” Jatuporn said, while denying this meant he was betraying the red shirts.

Some observers say the UDD has weakened substantially in recent years with the emergence of a student-led protest movement. The young protesters were particularly active last year when they called for reform of the monarchy, a new constitution, and resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Just a decade ago, the red shirts were a formidable political force with a strong network spanning the country.

Their current leader was born on October 5, 1965, in the southern province of Surat Thani, and began his political activism while studying at Ramkhamhaeng University.

In the “Black May” of 1992, Jatuporn and other student leaders addressed pro-democracy protesters gathered at the Ramkhamhaeng campus – their “last stronghold” after a bloody military crackdown on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. The protesters were only spared further bloodshed when General Suchinda Kraprayoon stepped down as prime minister.

A decade later, Jatuporn led students in support of then-PM Thaksin whenever he got into trouble with courts or protesters.

Jatuporn first entered national politics in 1996 when he joined the Palang Dharma Party, which was briefly led by Thaksin. Two years later, the young politician co-founded the Thai Rak Thai Party with Thaksin and others.

Long-time Thaksin ally

After Thaksin’s government was overthrown in the 2006 military coup, Jatuporn co-founded a group called the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship to campaign against the junta. The group expanded and was renamed the UDD.

After Thai Rak Thai was dissolved for electoral fraud, Jatuporn remained with its reincarnation, the People Power Party – which won the 2007 general election and formed a government. Jatuporn duly entered Parliament for the first time as its party-list MP.

After People Power was dissolved and a new government led by the rival Democrat Party was formed, Jatuporn led a series of anti-government protests along with other UDD leaders in 2009 and 2010. He later joined Thaksin’s new proxy, Pheu Thai, and in 2011 was elected party-list MP for the second time.

Jatuporn’s role as protest leader attracted numerous criminal charges and eventually saw him serve 19 months in jail for defaming former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. In 2010, Jatuporn called the Democrat ex-leader a murderer and accused him of “ordering the shooting dead of the protesters”.

He was also ordered to pay Bt100 million in civil rulings stemming from riots and arson attacks by red-shirt protesters.

In separate legal cases still ongoing, Jatuporn is charged with terrorism, illegal phone-tapping, and provoking public disorder, as well as other libel offences.

By Thai PBS World’ Political Desk