Angry "red shirts" in northern Thailand are preparing to hit back as anti-government protests in Bangkok are set to enter their third month.
Having stayed largely in the background, the red shirts, who propelled the Puea Thai party to power in 2011, are upset by what they see as a weak government response to the protesters' attempts to paralyse the capital and disrupt the Feb 2 election.
And they are quietly making plans to retaliate if Ms Yingluck Shinawatra's caretaker government is forced, by a military coup or other means, to cede power to an unelected administration.
"If we find that the elites are taking the law into their own hands, we will take the law into our own hands," red-shirt leader Pichit Tamool told The Straits Times in the northern province of Chiang Mai, the hometown of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose clan has been denounced by protesters.
Red-shirt groups in all 17 of Thailand's northern provinces, he said, have agreed among themselves to send tens of thousands of supporters into Bangkok if the military intervenes in the crisis.
"The situation in Bangkok would be pretty dire," he warned.
Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha added uncertainty to the political crisis last Friday when he refused to rule out the possibility of a military coup, saying "it depends on the situation".
The protesters, who are supported by the royalist establishment and urban middle class, have been trying since late October to topple the government led by Ms Yingluck, who is Thaksin's sister. Though deposed in a coup in 2006, Thaksin continues to command great loyalty among the rural masses in Thailand's populous north-east and north.
While protests in Bangkok have quietened down, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed on Saturday to "aggressively use every mechanism at our disposal" to shut down the capital after the New Year.