Throughout the day, UDD co-leaders engaged with 2,000 local grassroots activists on the core beliefs and principles of the Red Shirt movement. While the day’s most pressing issues of amnesty for political prisoners and amending the constitution were discussed, the school focused on the movement’s long term goal of overcoming the amaat power structure that continues to undermine democracy in Thailand.
The amaat system is based on an old elite network of patronage that survived the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932. It comprises Thailand’s old moneyed elites, military generals, and high-ranking civil servants.
UDD leader Tida Tawornseth explains,
The amaat system depends on military and economic power to protect the interests of the few. The system holds back economic and technological developments, and hinders social mobility. The amaat are stuck in the past.
Tida also countered the criticism that the Red Shirts are purely motivated by restoring Thaksin Shinawatra to power.
The opposition is afraid of Thaksin, and therefore assumes that we are fighting on his behalf. If they asked us, however, we would respond that we are not fighting for or against particular individuals, but for and against different political systems, with the goal of finally having democracy, justice, and equality…Red Shirts want liberal values in Thai society.
The amaat‘s mentality is cemented in a past where political contests were played out between competing elites, with minimal involvement from the grassroot masses. Rather than reevaluate their perspective, the amaat disregards the Red Shirts as Thaksin’s for-hire mob of ignorant peasants.
According to Tida, this is a major miscalculation,
The struggle for democracy is on two fronts, in parliament and in civil society. Elected governments in Thailand may be susceptible to coups and dissolution, but we are the people’s movement, we cannot be dissolved. The Red Shirts continue to grow in number and strength.
The political mobilization of the Thai masses is not the only change facing the amaat system.
The world is getting smaller through globalised capitalism. Thailand is becoming part of the ASEAN regional bloc. Technological and economic growth will be crucial. Our political system cannot afford to stay the same.
On the burning issue of amnesty, UDD leader Tida told the students,
Coup-makers have been granted amnesty eight times through new constitutions. We must pressure the government to provide amnesty for political activists.
The UDD has submitted a draft Amnesty Decree to the government, with the intention of granting amnesty to all political prisoners in Thailand whose crimes stem from the current political conflict. Other Red Shirt groups have proposed alternative pathways towards amnesty.
However, Jatuporn reiterated on Saturday that,
We must get the prisoners out as soon as possible, and the Amnesty Decree would be the fastest way.