Even though the public has not seen any red-shirt leaders sitting in the Yingluck Shinawatra cabinet, many have recently been appointed political officers by the new administration.
These appointments have drawn the ire of middle-class Bangkok residents, while political observers recognise them as the consolidation of the pro-Thaksin camp’s power, as well as a possible precursor to future confrontations between the pro-government red-shirt movement and opposition groups.
Amid criticism from the public, key members of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have been named advisers to ministers, secretaries and assistant secretaries to ministers, assistants to ministers, and political officers in the prime minister’s Office.
Among more than 30 key red-shirt leaders who have been appointed to political positions, Aree Krainara, former chief security guard of the UDD, has been appointed secretary to the Interior minister.
Yoswaris Chuklom, also known as red comedian Jeng Dokjik, was made assistant secretary to the Interior minister, Chinnawat Haboonpad, a key member of the Taxi Drivers Club, was appointed an adviser to the transport minister, while Somwang Assarasee, acting deputy chair of the UDD, was made an adviser to the commerce minister.
Several ministers said they had not selected those red-shirt leaders to work with them. Executives in the Pheu Thai Party had made the decisions for them.
It is obvious that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his team in the Pheu Thai Party have not paid attention to criticism from middle-class people in Bangkok about those red-shirt leaders’ profiles, qualifications and the appropriateness of their appointments.
Thaksin and his team have instead given priority to their core supporters, who are typically grassroots people, and the red-shirt movement.
They are also aware that if UDD leaders did not get any political positions in the Yingluck administration, the movement could become a threat to the political stability of this administration.
This is because UDD leaders have kept saying the Pheu Thai Party had won the July 3 general election thanks to the struggle and contribution of the red shirts.
During the Democrat-led government’s tenure, red shirts risked their lives during clashes with security forces, and some spent time in jail.
UDD leader Jatuporn Prompan said repeatedly that if the red shirts and the UDD were not strong enough, the Yingluck administration would not be able to uphold its authority.
For these reasons, it is inevitable for Thaksin and his team in the Pheu Thai Party to foster political unity between the party and the red shirts by allocating political positions to UDD leaders.
Red-shirt leaders and supporters will then remain loyal to Thaksin and the Pheu Thai Party.
They will be ready to flex their muscles or rally on the streets to shield the Yingluck administration from any threats.
Observers anticipated that we could again see political confrontations on the streets, particularly between the red-shirt movement and anti-government groups, especially if the government is unable to placate its allies _ and heed the concerns of middle-class voters at the same time.