A report at The Nation makes it clear that the Yingluck Shinawatra government, despite its many acts of appeasement, still faces an intransigent military brass that considers itself the true leadership of Thailand and claims impunity for all of its murderous attacks on civilian opponents and activists.
Walking a thin line between appeasing the military bosses and satisfying its core red shirt base, the government seems to have wanted to walk with the military – its greatest threat – than be seen to be in step with red shirts.
The Nation refers to antagonizing the military are “foolhardiness,” yet it is clear that the actions of royalists at the Constitutional Court, the bossiness of the military, its antagonism on the south, and the failure of constitutional reform has caused the government and its backers to raise the stakes in the game with the military. The military bosses are not amused. As the report has it,
Last Friday, the Defence Council held a critical meeting, which should serve as a wake-up call for coalition politicians…. Based on meeting insiders, Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat was a lone figure forced to sit and listen to the collective voices of the senior echelons from all branches of the armed forces.
It is particularly interesting that Defence permanent secretary General Sathien Permthong-in, seen as a staunch ally of the red-shirt movement, has openly abandoned his direct boss Sukampol to side with the armed forces.
After sidelining Sukampol, the meeting decided to nominate deputy Army chief Dapong Ratanasuwan as the first secretary-general of the new Operations Centre for the Southern Border Provinces. That was seen as an act of defiance by the top brass, as the government had made it very clear that it wanted Army chief-of-staff Sirichai Distakul for the job.
The Nation report tries to stress the significance of this meeting:
The top brass had never before convened their council to meddle in any appointments made outside their jurisdiction. But in this extraordinary case, their chilling message is crystal clear – the armed forces are ready to confront the government if necessary.
The report argues without much evidence or convincing words that the underlying struggle is actually “between the government and the opposition over fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s pulling the strings to rein in the Democrat [Party]…”. The report asserts that the target of legal action over the 2010 crackdown by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government is aimed at Abhisit and his former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban. The military brass seem to be the collateral damage as the threat of charges against Abhisit and Suthep is meant to bring the Democrat Party in line so that Thaksin can return and/or get his loot back.
PPT thinks there just might be something in this. We think the hiatus in outright conflict that followed the massive election victory showed the royalist elite that their only political power resides in the military and judiciary. The Democrat Party is flawed and Abhisit tainted. However, the military was unable to immediately step up. It was obviously tired and frustrated after the 2006 coup, the failures of its governments under Privy Councilor Surayud Chulanont and Abhisit, and the inability of royalists to coax or demand political support from the electorate. It has been the struggle over constitutional reform that has reignited the flames. In this sense, the legal proceedings threatening to touch Abhisit, Suthep and the top brass is part of the struggle.
While the report reckons that constitutional reform is all about Thaksin, and there is something in that, it is also a royalist fallacy, for the demand for rejection of the constitution and for it to be thrown out or revised goes back to the time when the junta illegally ditched the 1997 constitution and replaced it with its less democratic 2007 version. That’s long before Thaksin lost his loot or was convicted on the one charge that the military junta made stick (so far). Our guess is that other cases against Thaksin will resurface shortly. There is a pattern to this, and Thaksin is the lightening rod.
Update: It is worth considering the latest struggle between government and military, which has seen each of three senior officers shunted off to “inactive posts.” See reports in The Nation, Bangkok Post and Matichon.