PPT doesn’t always cite the speculative accounts of Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online. In the current circumstances, the speculative becomes somewhat more interesting.
In his recent column, Crispin made several comments that caught PPT’s collective attention, not least because they seem to implicitly send one of Crispin’s earlier speculation about an earlier, pre-election agreement between military, palace and Thaksin Shinawatra to the trash. In the new version we have the interests of Thaksin and the military leadership kind of coinciding. This coincidence of interest is for “reconciliation” and a broad amnesty.
Crispin argues that the military has split from the forces that opposed Thaksin in 2006. What’s left now is “the opposition Democrat Party, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group, and a section of the royal palace…”. They stand opposed to the reconciliation and charter bills, supported by the judiciary.
Later in the article, it is no surprise to learn that it seems the bit of the palace that is anti-Thaksin is the king himself:
It has been lost on few observers that King Bhumibol has recently resumed a more prominent role…. Some observers read special significance into the fact the revered monarch wore military fatigues punctuated with a Special Forces red beret…. Special Forces carried out the 2006 coup and played a key role in the 2010 suppression.
The king’s return to activity suggests to “those making preparations and cutting backroom deals that the sun has not set yet on Bhumibol’s righteous reign.”
But those deals do not include a coup. Crispin suggests that Thaksin and others are “manufacturing” a coup threat (for other views regarding a coup, see Bangkok Pundit and PPT’s earlier post). His view seems to be that there can’t be such a threat because:
Thaksin’s camp and the top brass led by army commander Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha have found common cause in the four reconciliation bills’ amnesty provision. Significantly, the provision would not challenge the legal basis of the 2006 coup and would absolve soldiers of responsibility for the killings of presumably scores of civilian red shirt protestors during the 2010 crackdown.
This coincidence of interests somehow replaces the earlier deal, if it ever existed. If it did, hpw does that square with the fact that officials now claim they have sufficient evidence to implicate the military in the deaths of April and May 2010. If the “deal” didn’t cover that, then the military must be daft.
Now, it is the military leadership that apparently craves an amnesty almost as much as Thaksin because “one military insider who requested anonymity” says that the “top brass and all generals in line for promotion have blood on their hands…”. It seems they were daft. Or there was never a deal.
On the other side, Crispin reveals that Thaksin is now said to “not feel secure enough to return to Thailand as long as Prayuth and other staunch royalists command the top tiers of the armed forces.” So what was that earlier agreement about? Was he daft too?
We learn that “the Democrats, PAD and parts of the palace remain vehemently opposed to Thaksin’s return,” while the “military feels it could keep closer tabs on Thaksin’s movements and meetings if he was based inside rather than outside of the country.”
In the new version of coincidence of interests, the “evidence” comes from … non other than PAD’s Sondhi Limthongkul! He states: “The commander-in-chief of the army is with Thaksin now…. [Prayuth] is only interested in keeping his post and getting lots of budgets from the government.”
Crispin is right when he notes that military backing “was crucial to past PAD street movements, including the 2005-06 mobilization that paved the way for Thaksin’s military ouster.” He’s also right to observe that the military’s hand was “in the PAD’s week-long airport seizure in 2008…”.
But, he says, times have changed. He quotes a “military insider” who declares that:
even if the situation in Bangkok descends into chaos, with rival red and (pro-PAD) yellow shirt protestors clashing violently, the military would step in only briefly and return power to Yingluck once order was restored.
Wow! But what about all that 2006 stuff about the military intervening to protect the monarchy and keep succession out of Thaksin’s meddling hands? Another change:
One military insider believes the top brass is opposed to staging another coup because of the risks it would entail to the royal succession from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.
Any military intervention in politics, the insider believes, would likely be resisted by proliferating red shirt villages, which by some estimates now account for 20,000 of 77,000 villages nationwide, concentrated in Thaksin’s stronghold north and northeast regions.
And all of these villages are dangerous in another way: “Many of the villages have been indoctrinated from above specifically to protect democracy against a future military coup.” We’re sure that’s a lot better than being indoctrinated to support the monarchy as gods.
Be that as it may, this situation now puts “the military at seeming odds with the Democrats and the PAD…”. It also seems to put them at odds with the king!
While the Democrats and the PAD are known to be aligned closely with the palace’s current Bhumibol-led configuration, some believe that connection will diminish after Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn takes the throne. The military frequently mobilizes defense of the monarchy themes to justify its outsized political role, and thus has a strong interest in the continuation of the royal institution’s current central role in Thai society after the succession.
Ouch. PPT’s collective head hurts. Its a fabulous story of changing alliances and motivations. We admit to continuing skepticism about deals although we can see more in a coincidence of interest story, but not as much as Crispin rolls in. We leave it to readers to make what they can of it.