The Bangkok Post’s story of comments by deputy Army chief Daopong Rattanasuban, which we assume to be a reasonably accurate reporting, suggest a rant to the media by someone who is completely flummoxed by the events in the South.
Recent events there have seen yet another spike in violent activity, including large bombs. The reaction in Bangkok has been typical, with a so-called Pentagon II being established under Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung and a visit there by former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, demanding that the government “do more.”
What caught our attention in this report from the Army is that it suggests anxiety and a lack of ideas as Daopong chants Thailand’s conservative national mantra of “nation, religion and monarchy” in evidencing a complete failure of understanding.
Nation: “We have not lost our land yet, but if we’re complacent and let the UN intervene and hold a referendum, then we’re finished…”. He adds: “we’ll fight it to the death…”.
Religion: “The insurgents wanted to get villagers on their side by telling them that the government and Thai Buddhists are evil, discriminating and unjust and that officials are using excessive force…”. Daopong adds: “The problem in the South was sensitive because it involves religion. Officials needed to be patient and have a good understanding.”
Monarchy: “I believe there’s not a single day when Their Majesties are not following news about the South and the incidents that affect the Thai Buddhists and Muslims there…. I believe that if the situation eases or becomes peaceful, Their Majesties will be in better health…”.
The latter statement is a remarkable statement of how senior military people are either disingenuous, remarkably unintelligent or depreciating of the intelligence of the Thai public. Perhaps it is all three. The statement is reminiscent of Princess Chulabhorn’s claims that the king had “lost consciousness” and “suffered from intestinal bleeding” from the stress of worrying about floods last year. As it was then, royalists will interpret this statement as criticism of Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.In fact, the health problems of the king and queen are essentially those of old people but that doesn’t prevent their ailments being used politically (see here).
On the other two statements, there is plenty in the short report that makes the general seem genuinely dull. For example, he implies that a referendum would be lost but also claims that “90 per cent of the two million Thai Muslims were well aware of the situation” and that they “understand and the army is trying to gain their trust…”. He adds that it is only “a small percentage of people who are using guerrilla warfare tactics” and that these militants “after failing to mislead the villagers, tried to instill fear by setting off bombs and murdering security officers at random…”. He ignores the hundreds of deaths of local Muslims. He foreshadows more “stringent measures.”
As the monarchy fades, the old conservatives in the military seem entirely lost.