Suthichai Yoon 2
[Suthichai Yoon] The moderates versus the hardcore
Ask critics of the Red Shirts why the protest leaders appear lately to have been in disarray, you will most likely be told: The hardcore elements are behind all the trouble. If you press for a more specific answer, your Red Shirt contact will only say: They won’t appear in public, won’t speak to the public and don’t want to be identified in any form.
So, is the hardcore the real “third hand” in this case? And what is the “softcore” doing about such major disruption?
It is, of course, difficult to say what really constitutes a hardcore element in the protest movement. If the whole purpose of the rally is to pressure Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve the House to call a new election, are you a softcore or hardcore protester if you agree it’s time to call off the rally.
And by “hardcore” the analysts don’t necessarily refer to the armed Black Shirts who fired on protesters and soldiers -- or even rabble-rouser Seh Daeng who, with his ubiquitous army uniform, goes beyond the normal kind of hardcore politics. They belong to the militant arm of the movement.
In strictly political terms, just take the three Red Shirt leaders -- Veera Musigapong, Jatuporn Promphan and Natthawut Saikua -- as examples.
I have heard that within the inner circle, Veera is seen as a softcore leader. And don’t forget that he is officially the chairman of the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship. He is seen to be too compromising in negotiations with the government.
Why the DAAD named him the movement’s chairman despite the fact that he is considered soft is beyond my limited comprehension. But if you ask some senior government negotiators, Veera may be the most reasonable man in the Red ranks. That means that someone considered soft by the Red s may be judged reasonable and mature by non-Red s.
Jatuporn, on the other hand, has been described as being too aggressive in trying to bring the rally to a fruitful conclusion. But I haven’t heard anyone among the Red Shirts or the multi-coloreds call him hardcore. That means he may just be somewhere between soft and hard -- or still indescribable as at this stage of the protest.
Then you have Natthawut who, according to several sources, is considered the most popular leader in the eyes of the Red crowd. That means he isn’t as compromising as Veera and not as hard-hitting as Jatuporn. But that doesn’t mean he is wishy-washy. In fact, my sources say that when crunch time came for some real negotiation with the government, Natthawut was dispatched to the scene instead of Veera and Jatuporn.
Nattawut is therefore not a hardcore leader for a very simple reason: He isn’t being blamed for any failure on the part of the Red Shirts. Not yet anyway.
It’s when rumors spread that Thaksin Shinawatra was thinking about naming a team of “second-generation” Red leaders to replace the present trio that the meaning of “hardcore” elements became clearer to me.
The speculation puts Arisman Pongruangrong, Supon Attawong and Kwanchai Praipana on the new leadership list. I am not sure whether you can call them hardcore operators. But their names have become known not because of their negotiation skills. Rather, they have been invariably identified as the roughnecks of the protest, assigned mostly to missions that require confrontational tactics.
Are they the rumored “hardcore” elements reputed to be derailing the negotiation process? Not really. Kwanchai quietly told one reporter that he was ready to pack up and go back to his Udon Thani base. Arisman, despite his tough talk, was uncharacteristically quiet when the crucial decision of whether to climb down or to fight on was being discussed.
And the man on whom hope of a settlement to end the rally was pinned throughout the past week -- Natthawut -- was the one who went on stage on Tuesday to announce that the fight was far from over.
Therefore, my conclusion is: The real hardcore elements aren’t up on stage keeping the crowd awake throughout the rally. They are the invisible, third hands who report directly to the Big Boss.
Yes, Thaksin Shinawatra may end up being the super hardcore element who is doing everything possible to subvert the peace process.
His main question: What’s in it for me?