CHIANG MAI– Red Shirt supporters in northern Thailand on Saturday converged in Chiang Mai province for a mass rally during the weekend in a show of support for the embattled caretaker government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The northern Red Shirts want to send a clear message to opponents of the government that they will rise up if Yingluck is toppled and an unelected prime minister is put in her place.
Saturday’s rally also acted as a platform for Red Shirt leaders to dispel the allegations that they want to split the country to form an independent state known as the Lanna People’s Democratic Republic.
Lanna is the name of an old kingdom situated in northern Thailand, and it is a regional identity that has long been used by the Red Shirt groups in the north to identify themselves.
Petchawat Wattanapongsirikul, a core Red Shirt leader of the “Rak Chiang Mai 51” group, was sued by the Royal Thai Army over the controversy, but he said that he was misrepresented and misunderstood.
Instead, he and other Chiang Mai Red Shirts said that protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) should be held responsible for the separation issue.
Wattanapongsirikul said: “Mr Suthep and the PDRC proposed a political system where they will appoint all the MPs in parliament by themselves. Then they will shut down the country to reform the political system. When things are ready then they will open up the country and hold an election.
“But the people elsewhere say they do not want this. If they do not want what Suthep wants, where will they go? So these people say I will stay on my own and will bring the king with us. Then people made the accusation that these people are rebels who want separation. This problem is actually started by the PDRC.”
Dang Songkwai, leader of “Rak Chiang Mai 51”, said: “Suthep said he wants an unelected people’s council and is calling for the military to stage a coup, that’s what some people in Bangkok and the south want.
“But people in the north and the northeast say they want a free and fair election. If this is the way it is then I have to ask, how can the two systems co-exist? It’s not possible. Maybe we need to look at China and Hong Kong – they have two separate political systems within one country.”
Despite playing down the separation issue, the Red Shirt speeches and actions will still be closely watched by the army and other organisations.
The allegation of secession has now become another thorn in the side of the beleaguered Yingluck administration.