Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung is one of the “lovable rogues” who litter Thailand’s political landscape. Some of them, like Chalerm, have used official positions to enrich and entrench themselves. They get away with murder, often literally.
Their influence – sometimes backed with dubious connections to people with guns and chao phor – and their capacity to change political shades in a way that keeps them close to power and in the public eye is in their DNA. Recent examples include not just Chalerm, but Newin Chidchob and even former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. It seems that Chalerm is going to play a similar role in the Yingluck Shinawatra government as that played by Newin for the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.
These “self-made” nakleng politicians are often amongst the strongest supporters of the monarchy. Part of this has to do with their social climbing and the need to be accepted by the royalist elite. Of course, they seldom are, but that doesn’t stop them wanting to hobnob with the royalists. Because they are never really accepted, their displays of royal loyalty and courtship can be as chilling as the King Vulture’s display. His style is adopted by several other old-style nakleng, including the popular Bangkok maverick and former massage parlour king Chuwit Kamolvisit, who is on the opposition side, but supportive (so far) of Chalerm. Who says it is only opposites that attract!
Chalerm has been loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra, and in a team that was decimated by politicized judicial decisions, he was one of the more prominent Puea Thai parliamentarians who confronted the Democrat Party-led government. He often made long and entertaining attacks on the government that served to reinforce his reputation as a loveable lout.
Chalerm had a shaky relationship with Puea Thai, where despite being considered an egotistical and ambitious maverick, he was chair of Puea Thai members of parliament. He has had a distant and sometimes troubled relationship with the mass-based red shirt movement. As an old-style politician, Chalerm is not much interested in political mobilization.
Since he has been unleashed as a senior government minister he has been hard at work. Some of this will cheer supporters but will also used by opponents against Yingluck’s government.
For PPT, most disturbing has been Chalerm’s personal championing of royalist-style illiberal politics. This has reached something of a peak in Chalerm’s recent statements about getting tough on anti-monarchists.
In Prachatai, Chalerm is reported as having told reporters “that he had called a meeting with police officers who had finished doctoral degrees on government scholarships to get rid of websites with lèse majesté content.” (Chalerm himself can claim a doctorate from Ramkhamhaeng University.)
Chalerm believes that “offending websites must not be allowed to exist, and all measures must be taken to block them, and make arrests.”
He seems to think that police officers with doctoral degrees will be more effective snoopers on lese majeste and has assigned a committee to look into the idea. It seems Chalerm may see the need for a more targeted approach than in the past. That is disappointing and scary (as it is meant to be).
Meanwhile, the same article reports that the Army’s Lt. Gen. Udomdet Seetabut has warned “that the threats [to society] concerned not only the problems of narcotics and crime, but also about attacks against the supreme institution by groups of people with malevolent intent in various forms.” The past government’s mantra that these “attacks greatly affect national security” is still deployed.
The general explains that the Army, “has mobilized the masses and built people’s networks under a programme entitled ‘Thais Love the Land’, which has already organized 14 training sessions for 4,000 Thais.” He added:
He said that the programme was meant to make the people aware of their power and duty to protect the Nation, Religion and King, instil love and unity among them, and encourage them to take part in preventing and solving problems which affected national security and public order.
The army will organize an event entitled ‘Unite Thais Who Love the Land’ at the Army Club in Bangkok on 13 Sept for those who have been trained in the programme to gather and exchange ideas, and there will be musical performances and lectures on national security and patriotism.
This is also old-style military tactics that were born in anti-communist counterinsurgency in the 1960s and 1970s. Old-fashioned, but this kind of propaganda should scare Chalerm and Puea Thai, for such a network will eventually be used against them.
That aside, neither Chalerm nor Udomdet can turn the clock back unless they plan to build concentration camps and engage in a 1976-77-like reign of terror in order to protect the monarchy. If the palace continues to rely on old men and men using old-style and nakleng methods, then their allies are likely to bury the palace in campaigns that spell its doom.