The prince’s men

14 02 2014

Readers may recall that just over a week ago we posted on a movement of troops that caused considerable social media attention. Part of the reason for this was that the troops were associated with Prince Vajiralongkorn, and he was rumored to be supporting the government.

The social media faction that argues that succession is the key to understanding Thailand’s political crisis saw the troop movement as some kind of support for their position.Prince in uniform

Now the Bangkok Post has reported what can only be an “official statement” on what happened. We say this because while it appears as a “report,” it is actually in the form of an announcement under the name of Wassana Nanuam.

The report is interesting for it could be used by the “succession crowd” or by those who are not so struck by this claim that this is the explanatory key.

It does state:

There have, however, been recent attempts to link the creation of the Royal Security Command to the political conflict. Fake documents were released saying the command had assigned 3,000 of its officers to take care of the prime minister, seemingly in an attempt to draw the monarchy into the ongoing political unrest.

Permanent secretary for defence Gen Niphat Thonglek confirmed no such order had been issued, as did ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol, secretary to the Crown Prince.

”The command has nothing to do with politics. Its main duty is to provide security to members of the royal family,” Gen Nipat said.

The account reports of the transfer of a “unit of elite soldiers, the Royal Security Command,” to “the authority of the Defence Ministry in its administrative streamlining of protective duties for the royal family.”

The first thing to notice is that this is fixing some kind of previous problem or issue. What that is is never made clear, but if we were interested in the succession issue, we’d likely see this as a positioning maneuver.

The reporting lines are explained, and support this line of thinking:

Reporting directly to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the command will be assigned to provide security for the royal family, as well as take charge of administrative affairs for the palace and His Royal Highness.

This is not a small unit; it “comprises six battalions of soldiers, [who] will be placed on the Defence Ministry’s payroll, permanent secretary for defence Niphat Thonglek said, rather than the army’s as in the past.” We are not military wonks, but we guess a battalion is several hundred troops.

There is a bunch of stuff about this group recruiting and being an elite unit with better pay and so on. And also some stuff about how the recruits get tough and specialist training and are on probation for some time.

This unit is know as “The Royal Guard 904,” and “well recognised for its strict discipline and professionalism. The officers are thoroughly screened to ensure competency.” Loyalty to the prince too, no doubt.

Interestingly a point is made that this Royal Guard includes an “all-female team…”. Make of that what you will.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has reportedly said that he is “confident these officers are fit for the duty of providing security for the royal family.” That could be read as a linking of the Army to the prince as succession looms.

There’s something going on.

 

 





On monarchist mafias, political madness and coups

22 05 2012

Is the monarchy really the most important and nation-defining element of a supposedly modern Thailand? It certainly seems that the Army brass has defined their world in terms of the monarchy. For the military, nothing else seems to matter. Forget the things most of the world’s professional armed forces consider relevant and important.

That seems to be the story from a new Thai-language book, Lab Luang Prang V, by the Bangkok Post’s military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam, reviewed in her newspaper. The review states that Wassana’s new book:

… again stirs the local political pot and while she doesn’t actually come out and state in so many words that another coup is in the making, one can read between the lines when she explains that the army _ and its present leader, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha _ “has to prepare” for any movement _ she could be referring to the red-shirt camp or left-leaning intellectuals or some other group _ that might try to undermine the monarchy.

In the book, Wassana apparently:

… lists various scenarios which might pitch the army against the present government: a reshuffle of high-ranking army officers to flush out and sideline monarchists is one she discusses; another is an excessively zealous public campaign to revise Section 112 of the Criminal Code (which outlaws lese-majeste).

In other words, there is not even a shaky pretense that the current Army leadership is an apolitical and professional. It seems that the Army is incapable of anything other than “protecting” the monarchy by coups, orchestrating the installation of royalist governments and gunning down oppositions.

The reviewer observes that Wassana sounds “at times a bit like Mario Puzo in one of his Mafia novels…”. There is much to this as the Army is a mafia-like organization with links to the underworld. Like the monarchy’s mafia,

Wassana gives a lively account of the two major factions within the army at present. The dominant Burapha Payak clique, which includes army chief Prayuth, is so close to the monarchy that members are often referred to as taharn sua Phra Rajini (soldiers of HM the Queen). Its influence currently eclipses that of Wong Thewan, a faction comprising scions of ultra-elite families, which once controlled the army.

In fact, it makes little difference whether it is the current mafia or the previous mafia clique, in practice, they tend to operate in pretty much the same manner.

As an illustration, Wassana apparently offers an insight on the death of senior soldiers in April 2010 as they fired on red shirts. Her claim is that the shooting “by mysterious men dressed in black … was the result of a personal vendetta by an unspecified force of militants against Burapha Payak.” In other words, she is suggesting internal Army conflicts led to military-on-military fighting.

As startling as this “inside view” is, according to the review, the “highlight of the book are the hints about a possible coup.”

Wassana apparently reveals the significance for the Army of the floods in 2011. Readers may recall that the Army was slow to move on floods, and when it did, it appeared to be driven by the PR need  to rebuild its image after the bloody crackdown on the red shirts in 2010.  Wassana believes it was more than this, for it was preparing support for military political interventions. In terms of a “hypothetical putsch the army will make use of logistics it developed and connections it forged with various communities last year when troops were deployed to assist victims of the devastating floods.”

It becomes clear why the military politicized flood relief as they prepare for a possible coup.

Wassana is said to be disdainful of “coup-makers who, she says, may win the battle, but will lose the war.” She thinks a coup could bring the end of the monarchy. That makes sense, but Wassana is also able to be as mad as a hatter. In predicting red shirt opposition to any coup, she apparently

devotes a whole chapter, entitled ‘Red America’, to claims that the United States is giving support to those who are seeking to revise Section 112. This move is supposedly part of a geopolitical strategy to reclaim US dominance over our region and offset the increasing influence exerted by China.

Frankly, this is absolute nonsense. Anyone familiar with U.S. policy would know that such a claim has no evidence to back it. Rather, Wassana appears to be drawing on bizarre conspiracy theories that have emerged from a small and extreme group from the libertarian U.S. right-wing. This group constructs conspiracies based on a selective use of “facts,” and has been strongly taken up by equally loopy conspiricists amongst ultra-royalists.

Wassana is not the only one to believe fairy tales.  A chapter of the book tells readers that

a soothsayer has told army commander-in-chief Prayuth that he is the reincarnation of a warrior who served the 16th-century King Naresuan the Great and that he has been reborn for the express purpose of saving our nation. dedicated to superstitious beliefs and predictions.

If that is true, the Army is led by a person who probably thinks vampire movies are documentaries. But, then, some would say that the army is full of blood suckers and other devils.





Coup talk and Nitirat

9 02 2012

Wassana Nanuam at the Bangkok Post has a column worth reading. It is about the “threat” apparently posed to the military leadership as the custodians of  “royalist democracy” by a few academics asking that parliament consider amending the lese majeste law.

She recounts the time sequence of military threats to the small Nitirat group:

1) General Boonlert Kaewprasit: “chairman of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School Foundation and leader of Class 1, who recently urged all soldiers to protect the monarchy. He warned of a possible coup if there was no respect for highest institution of the land.”

2) Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha: against any attempt to amend Article 112. He infamously declared that anyone who supported the Nitirat call should “go and live abroad” and asked: “Were you born in Thailand?” He promised Nitirat: “If you guys play hard ball, I’ll have no choice but to do so, too.”

3) Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimaprakorn declared: “The armed forces are against amending Section 112. Personally, I strongly oppose it.” Joining the nasty attacks on Nitirat, he “criticised overseas-educated academics who support the amendment.” He warned them “not forget that they are Thai.” And, he wondered aloud “whether they [Nitirat] have any hidden agenda.”

4) “[T]he army has also deployed officials from the Internal Security Operations Command to play a “behind-the-scenes” role in countering Nitirat.”

5) Prayuth came out again to declare: “The armed forces are duty-bound to protect the monarchy. We will not stand still. I myself am against the amendment or any attempt to touch Section 112, because Thailand and the royal institution cannot be separated.”

Wassana observes that with “Pheu Thai in power, the armed forces seem to be the only hope left for the anti-Thaksin groups, including the yellow shirts, to end Thaksin’s political influence.”

But is a coup on the agenda? Wassana seems to think it would just be too much trouble, with the Army having learned a hard lesson after 2006. She also says that “Pheu Thai is wary of a coup but believes the armed forces will not do it this time because they would face public opposition which could turn the coup into a bloody tragedy.”

PPT’s view is different, and we think a coup remains on the agenda, but that getting rid of Puea Thai by “other means” a la 2008 is also on the agenda. But let’s continue with Wassana’s view that the “only thing the armed forces can do is not to turn to using force. They are using only their voice to tame those trying to put an end to the monarchy.” We assume she means: “They are using only their voice to tame those they believe are trying to put an end to the monarchy,” otherwise she’d be clearly biased.

She then adds a neat tidbit:

And it is not surprising that this campaign is led by the two generals: Thanasak and Prayuth. Gen Thanasak is a Special Guard for Her Majesty the Queen and Gen Prayuth has been a member of the Queen’s Guard for all of his military career, as an alumni of the 21st Infantry Regiment of the Queen’s Guard in Chon Buri.

She concludes, and we agree: “But do not blink, as anything can happen in Thai politics.” Especially when the military and palace are in play.





Preparing to throw out another elected government

12 11 2011

PPT never imagined that the electoral defeat of July 2011 would be accepted by the defeated opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra, the red shirts, Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party. The Army, the entirely misnamed Democrat Party, yellow/multi shirts and their big boss backers have never accepted that defeat. They consider themselves the rightful owners and rulers of Thailand and consider elections a flawed political process. A couple of reports in recent days suggest how these groups are re-mobilizing with political tools they’ve used before.

The first report links to PPT’s astonishment expressed in a recent post regarding the threat by Chulalongkorn University academic that he would sue the government. We couldn’t imagine much from Narong Phetprasert, a founder of the Fascist-like neo-nationalist movement a decade or more ago, being take seriously. However, a more detailed and later report, makes it clear that his action is part of a strategy being developed by anti-government academics and activists. That these activists are rounding on the government is why the mainstream media is interested and promoting their “cause.”

Narong claims he has “discussed the matter with lawyers and found a couple of legal points that can be pursued.” His discussions have been with the notoriously yellow-shirted Lawyers Association of Thailand. He can’t expect a “class action suit which will cover not only those who are directly affected by the flood, but those who lost income as well” to be taken seriously, but that isn’t the point. The purpose of the action is to begin the active campaign to bring down the government.

He is supported by lawyer Srisuwan Janya, president of Stop Global Warming Association Thailand, also a driving force in the Lawyers Association of Thailand. Srisuwan “said people who are considering taking action should join a flood forum on Dec 15…. And those who want to sue the government cannot miss this…”. Kriangsak Woramongkolchai, a spokesman for the Lawyers Association of Thailand, joined the call to establish the flood was caused by mismanagement and to sue.

This activism is couched in populist terms but is meant to destabilize the administration and allow opportunities for a “movement” to develop and for the biased judiciary to be used. The pattern will be familiar to anyone who followed the rise of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2005.

That movement led to the 2006 coup, so it is no surprise to see the military carefully positioning itself as an ally of anti-government forces. In a report at the Bangkok Post, sprouting the mantra that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her coalition government face “declining popularity,” the alternative government appears to be identified as residing with Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his forces.

On the survey data, PPT urges readers to look at Bangkok Pundit’s account which bears the hallmarks of maturity, perspective and some critical thought – all qualities sadly missing from the Bangkok Post in recent times.

Reflecting the opinions of the mainstream media and anti-Puea Thai Party elements in Bangkok, reporter Wassana Nanuam claims the “floodwaters are washing away her credit and, in contrast, boosting the popularity of the armed forces, especially the army under Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, because soldiers have become the core group helping flood-affected people.”

She then claims: “In Bangkok and suburban areas alone, army trucks and boats are everywhere, giving passengers a free ride when the public transport system is paralysed and comes to a standstill in some locations where the high level of water makes the roads impassable for buses and other ordinary vehicles.” PPT points out that this is a gross exaggeration that parrots politicized propaganda.

Anyone who watches Thai television (other than the Army’s own propaganda channel) recognises that the Army is active but that so too are thousands of ordinary government officials and huge numbers from the private sector.

Wassana claims that the “floods are making people forget about the negative image of the army last year, when soldiers used force to break up the anti-government rally of the red shirts in the heart of the capital.” She means when they used snipers to gun down scores of people, in a massacre that was reminiscent of several previous attacks on civilians by the military. Of course, there are other assessments of the military’s flood role that are not nearly so positive.

But then Wassana gets to the point of this propaganda and to what is an important point that is probably felt to be best made in a story that repeats all of the pro-Army propaganda: “More importantly, the present role of the army has made Gen Prayuth ‘a star’…”. She says “the public” is making “comparisons between him and the prime minister.”

PPT has posted several times on how reporters and opinion page writers have been demanding strong leadership. Of course, these are the same lot who hated Thaksin Shinawatra’s strong leadership…. They only want unelected strong men.

Wassana makes the all too obvious point about the Army’s PR offensive: “[t]he rising popularity of the army is not an encouraging sign for Thai politics…. Gen Prayuth is seen as being on the side of “the amataya” or aristocracy which stands against Pheu Thai and United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.” Water coup talk again? It seems that Wassana wants to raise exactly this point.

The army is unable and unwilling to wean itself of its control addiction, and Wassana reveals the leadership’s current political position: “the government has been a failure in its handling of the crisis. Ms Yingluck lacked leadership, did not put the right man on the right job, played a political game with the Democrat Party which controls the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, and spent more energy trying to save Pheu Thai’s constituencies in Bangkok from flooding than other areas…”. It matters little whether this assessment is even marginally accurate, for it is a statement that the military is at war with yet another elected government.

Prayuth himself is playing a careful game, allowing Yingluck to be criticized by his underlings and then denying responsibility and claiming to not be mutinous like pretty much all the leadership of the Army. But, and here Wassana is correct, the “power play between the army and politicians will not end…. The conflict between the two and the way in which Ms Yingluck and Gen Prayuth are going in their different directions could give the Democrats or ‘the amataya’ a chance to widen the rift so as to pave the way for the army to oust the government.”

More pointedly, she asserts that “it may be possible that Gen Prayuth might be used to confront the youngest sister of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, when the army on one side and the UDD and Pheu Thai on the other, have very fragile relations. Gen Prayuth’s position remains unchanged. He does not like the red shirts or Thaksin. He is determined to protect the monarchy and lives with the motto that ‘Country Above All’.”





Amnesia on the military

15 06 2011

In a recent post we said: “PPT thought that everyone knows that the brokering of the deal for the Democrat Party-led coalition government was managed by the military with support from business and the palace.” In that post we were commenting on the recent Abhisit Vejjajiva epistle. It seems that this sudden amnesia has also infected the writers at the Bangkok Post, where two articles claim that the military’s involvement in cobbling together the Democrat Party-led coalition is somehow a new story.

The first story is by the yellow-hued op-ed writer Veera Prateepchaikul. He takes up Chart Thai Pattana Party leader Chumpol Silpa-archa’s comments in an article with the intriguing title “’Forced marriage’ was not made in heaven.” We take this as a reference to the palace. Interestingly, though, Veera doesn’t mention the palace. It seems he wants to shift responsibility away from “heaven.” Veera states: “Chumpol’s first public admission of Chartthaipattana’s ‘forced marriage’ with the Democrats and three other junior parties …has confirmed what the opposition Pheu Thai Party and many political observers have accused all along – that the military had played a crucial role in cobbling together the Abhisit government…. But Mr Abhisit has denied all along that his coalition government was put together with the help of the military.”

The second story is by Wassana Nanuam, who knows what happened very well. Her account also points to Chumpol’s comments “… Armed forces leaders, including Gen Prayuth [Chan-ocha], reportedly invited many politicians for a talk at the 1st Infantry Regiment to lobby them to support the Democrat-led government in December 2007. Both the military and the Democrat Party have vehemently denied this.”

The interesting point is the last sentence. PPT’s question is: How can the Democrat Party and the military deny it now and why does Veera think this is new?

We covered some of this in out linked post above and this earlier post. We again draw readers’ attention to the excellent Bangkok Pundit round-up on the Chumpol story. Let’s just cite a bit from that post, from The Nation: “    The shadow of the military hovers over moves to form a new government, which will see the Democrats team up with minor parties who agreed to swap sides “for the sake of the nation. “A key leader of one of the former coalition parties said most parties had moved to the Democrat camp due to a request by a senior military figure, who was conveying a message from a man who could not be refuted.” We would assume that the “man” is close to heaven.

We might add that Anupong and his co-military commanders made a public statement calling for the PPP government to resign. That was in late November 2008, in a nationwide broadcast.

What else does the media say at the time? Here’s some, from PPT’s paper files:

In the same Nation story, this is added: “key Democrat leaders namely Suthep [Thaugsuban] and Niphon [Promphan], along with their supporters namely Pradit [Pattaraprasit], Somsak [Prissanananthakul], Suchat Tanchareon from Puea Pandin, Somsak Thepsuthin from the disbanded Matchima Thipataya, and some MPs from Newin [Chidchob]‘s group met Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda at his residence. The only parties not invited were Pheu Thai and Pracharaj.”

On 11 December 2011, Wassana in the Bangkok Post stated: “Amid intense lobbying by both Puea Thai and Democrat camps, many key members of the coalition parties and key factions within them were seen visiting Gen Anupong at his official residence in the compound of the First Infantry Regiment off Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, both in small and large groups. Among these special visitors were reportedly Newin Chidchob and Sora-at Klinprathum, two faction leaders in the now dissolved PPP. The two men were seen at Gen Anupong’s residence on Dec 4 along with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army’s chief-of-staff. Later, Pradit Phataraprasit, secretary-general of Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana party reportedly called on Gen Prayuth at his residence, also in the regiment compound. In the meantime, Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban kept in touch with Gen Anupong by phone…. On Dec 6, shortly before the Democrat’s plan to form a new coalition government was announced, Mr Suthep reportedly led a group of key members of the Democrats’ prospective coalition partners to meet Gen Anupong at the residence of former army chief Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who is well respected by Gen Anupong. Even though the meetings were supposed to be secret events, they ended up in the open because of the unusual manner of the visits.”

In the Bangkok Post on 29 December 2008, Anupong “accepted that meetings between him and politicians from the Democrats and other smaller parties at his residence at the First Infantry Regiment on Vibhavadi Rangsit road paved the way for the Democrats to eventually form a new coalition government. The Dec 3, 4 and 6 meetings were attended by key figures of the former coalition parties of the previous government and influential Buri Ram politician Newin Chidchob, the leader of the breakaway faction of the dissolved People Power party.” It is clear that the cat is already well out of the bag and there can be no denying the meetings. What Anupong does then is add this, and this has been the basis of continuing dissembling by the military brass and Abhisit: ”They phoned me for my advice. Some asked to meet me. But I was not involved in setting up the government. I only suggested that they do what is good for the country…”.

But he can’t control himself, saying: “Society expects the military to help restore peace. But when this [the meetings] happened, I was attacked. What should I do, then?” PPT uses the words of a military source cited in the above story: “From the chain of events of the last few weeks, it cannot be denied that Gen Anupong had a hand in the successful formation of the present government.”

What isn’t very clear at all is the identity of the “man” who could not be disobeyed. Many have suggested Privy Councilor General Prem Tinsulanonda. Unlike Anupong’s involvement, however, this one is harder to pin down with adequate news stories.

But this is certainly no big news. The journalists had it right from the start. So why the collective amnesia now? Anything to do with the election?

 





With a major update: The Army and the annoying election

2 06 2011

PPT has noted several times that the Army was the least keen about the 2011 election amongst the regime’s supporters and backer. This is not unexpected for the Army has been the force to throw out elected governments and to put down civilians who challenge the military’s political dominance or the symbols of the ancien regime that has long dominated political power in Thailand.

The Army recently had several leaders mumble something about respecting the result of the election. Now the Bangkok Post is providing more detail regarding the military’s “position.”

The Post refers to a “big question mark” that “hovers above Army Commander-in-Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha. The general’s future hangs in the balance – if Pheu Thai Party wins the election next month.” That’s not exactly big news. What seems to be behind this story is the realization that the the Puea Thai Party is looking good in the polls.

But it isn’t just Prayuth who seems uncomfortable about the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party apparently doing well: “other key commanders involved in the dispersal of red shirt protesters on May 19 last year will probably face the same fate.”

But Puea Thai are warned. If you win, “[m]oving the army’s No.1 man away from his present post would not be easy…”. Remarkably, it is argued that Prayuth’s campaign against alleged anti-monarchists is a strategy to embed him: “the general has made clear his position that he is working wholeheartedly for the country and the monarchy. Touching him could underline the public’s concern that those opposing him are against this highly respected institution.”

PPT is not sure that there is a “public concern” as the article suggests, but let’s ignore that for the moment. In fact, right or wrong, Puea Thai, red shirts and Thaksin are all seen as enemies of the army and the throne. It is “former army leader Chaiyasit Shinawatra – a cousin of Thaksin” who is trying to re-build a constituency in the military for Puea Thai.

PPT thinks this is all phoney. Both Puea Thai and the Army are clear that they stand opposed. If Puea Thai does form a government, we are sure the Army will work to undermine it.

That the army has “reportedly promise[d] to wash its hands of…  politics if Pheu Thai returns to power – on the condition that it would not challenge the monarchy or exact revenge on army officers” is political nonsense. No one can believe this military leadership.

As the article makes clear, “it would be wrong to say that the army under the helm of Defence Minister Prawit and Gen Prayuth, has already thrown in the towel to Pheu Thai and now is waiting for the party to administer the country.” It is clear that the Army “can still meddle in the polls. The Internal Security Operations Command and some key commanders are undertaking a secret mission to closely follow Pheu Thai, in the hopes of coming up with evidence it could then send to its political rivals. That includes information for the Election Commission that could land Pheu Thai’s winning candidate with a red card of disqualification.”

Meanwhile, AFP states that Puea Thai’s no. 1 candidate, Yingluck Shinawatra has had to urge the army “to refrain from staging another coup as she gains momentum in her bid to become the country’s first female premier.”

PPT thinks she is deliberately understating the threat when she says: “”I don’t think that (a coup) will happen again. I hope not but we have to make sure everybody respects the people’s decision…. Thailand has been backward for four or five years and people have been suffering for a long time so they need the country to move forward.”

And at the BBC, the political role of the military is further emphasized when it asks: “given recent political history, will the outcome be solely dictated by the will of the people?”

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has done more than any civilian prime minister ever to place the military in a position of power and Abhisit owes his position to the royalist military.

Rachel Harvey notes in her report that the military’s control of media has it spewing out propaganda spots that are “extolling the virtues of the armed forces.”

Will the military accept Puea Thai? PPT has said no. So does Wassana Nanuam of the Bangkok Post who “has been writing about the Thai armed forces for the best part of two decades. She is sure that if the current opposition Pheu Thai party – which is in effect controlled by Mr Thaksin – were to win the next election, the military would intervene again.” We think she’s right. She thinks this won’t be a coup. Like so many others, she says “times have changed.” PPT isn’t so sure. Yes, they will engineer, maneuver and cheat, but if all that fails, we think the tanks could roll again.

The Army is already hard at work.

Harvey says it “is hard to know what the men in khaki are thinking.” We disagree. There is so much evidence of their interests and involvement, that it is clear that, should Puea Thai pull off an unlikely victory, then there enemies in teh elite and palace will certainly get together with the military for one more political fix.

Update: We can’t resist commenting on 2Bangkok.com’s continuing commentary on election and post-election scenarios that represents one conservative and yellow-hued perspective. We comment on the last of their short accounts, on the role of the military.

The commentary begins with a truism: “There are many figures who have major stakes in the status quo.”

The fear is, it seems, elections: change should not come from an elected administration that is “a result of a one-party government run by a billionaire again.”

PPT points out that Thaksin’s election in 2005 was by a landslide and his TRT dominated parliament. No news there. But there was a parliamentary opposition. It was the Democrat Party, that was remarkably lazy and rejected elections, perhaps because they couldn’t win one, and signed up for extra-constitutional opposition that included tacitly supporting an illegal coup. They then supported lopsided judicial interventions that got rid of a second elected government that was pro-Thaksin. Finally, they colluded with the military to establish their government. So it seems the choice presented is elections or elite machination.

As 2Bangkok.com states, “That means that looking past the near term events, the legacy of Thaksin’s rule and his agitation from abroad may be the return of the military into the political sphere.”

PPT looked at this sentence a couple of times…. a “return of the military into the political sphere”? We were left to wonder when it left the political sphere so that it may return? We consider the whole period from about April 2006 to be one where the military has been the dominant political manipulator.

In the commentary it seems the hope is that those who hate Thaksin in a very personal way may get their way via the military: “when the dust settles, it may be that the victor is once again the military in its traditional role of political interloper and ‘protector of the nation’.”

PPT is not sure how many still cling to a notion that the military is or has ever been the “protector of the nation.” This perspective is based on a notion that “the nation” is the elite’s nation alone, where killing and imprisoning domestic opposition is a requirement every few years to maintain that nation.

As the commentary notes, “Observers on every side of the political equation have begun to question the military role already—especially as the military is no longer blundering into the debate with tanks on the street, but with subtle, behind-the-scenes machinations and threats.”

Subtle? Well killing people and having hundreds arrested and thrown in jail hardly seems subtle. Perhaps the author means wild allegations about anti-monarchy plots and lese majeste. Perhaps that is as subtle as the military can get? Blunt dunderheads are unlikely to ever be subtle.

The commentary acknowledges a point made many months ago by others: the “military action … necessary to prevent a Thaksin return and an end to the present Thai political system, …[has] once again return[ed] the nation to a future past: weak coalition governments under the watchful eye of a military always wanting a political role without having to resort to a vote.”

So subtle means returning to the 1980s…. Well, yes, the same, but different….

Of course, none of this is happening during a Cold War era and technology is democratizing expression in Thailand. The entire Thaksin experience has redefined the relationship between political parties and the populace they represent. Open protest, while still not accepted as in the West, has become the norm.

In this environment, the look of a military dominated political system on the ground would be different from the past and perhaps not even obvious. Even now the Peau Thai and Red Shirts seem to be having little traction with the concept of “silent coup.” It is hard to define this if you cannot point to tanks rolling through the streets.

This is remarkably tortured logic. Even the Democrat Party of the past had a difficult relationship with the military. The point is that a Prem-era like, semi-democracy is as much a military regime now as it was in the 1980s. The elite and its supporters are bereft of ideas because they rely on vicious dinosaurs to protect their interests.

And see if this makes sense:

So if and when the Thaksin schism in politics ends someday, all civilian political eyes will look to the military (as well as one other pressing issue) in terms of making sure these institutions are minimized and are least able to check any actions a civilian government wants to take (whether they be rural reform or gross profiteering).

They mean the monarchy, of course. As PPT reads it, not all civilian politicians agree. Indeed, there is no minimization but maximization of the military and monarchy, and any attempt to minimize them is going to be a 2-3 decade process (unless there are more uprisings). They are not about to give back what has taken 2-3 decades to regain. At least the commentary is clear that the military and monarchy are opposed to reform and elected government.





More on obeying orders

21 04 2011

Wassana Nanuam who reports on military affairs for the Bangkok Post has a useful op-ed on current military-based/ -led politics. She begins:

Two decades ago, every time an army commander spoke, everyone, including the government and all politicians, listened. Every move by the top brass to voice their disappointment at any issue was taken heed of, everybody was scared of any signs of a military coup. All that seems to have changed now.

While still remarkably powerful, Wassana argues that “what top-ranking officers say or do (including the statements of the army chief) appear to have lost that magic. Once deemed “untouchable”, the number one officer in the army, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has come under relentless attack from politicians across the spectrum.”

On the one hand, PPT can see her point in that there has been push-back on Prayuth’s pushy and demanding proclamations. On the other hand, Prayuth seems to be pretty successful at putting the cat amongst the pigeons, playing a pretty bellicose but seemingly effective political role. Look at Abhisit’s relative silence and the way the Puea Thai Party is being sent into a re-organizational frenzy.

But back to Wassana. She asks why this change she identifies has come about. First:

Gen Prayuth probably has come out to speak on the same issue once too often, so nobody seems to care about his message any longer.

Well, some are listening, even if they are pushing back too.

Second, because of the experience of the 2006 coup, when army commander General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin “repeatedly said the army had no interest in staging a military coup,” and then ran the palace-military putsch, the public is “unable to trust them [the military leadership]…” when they declare there won’t be a coup.

The public again sees something else happening, with the Army chief deeply involved in political machinations. That political projection derives from the 2006 coup, and Prayuth has been an especially enthusiastic player and fierce opponent of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Puea Thai Party and the red shirts. Wassana observes:

Once the army bet against Thaksin, it has had to go all the way. The army knows that if there is any regime change or power shift that favours Thaksin, the army would land in deep trouble…. If the political momentum swings back to the Thaksin camp, the army might consider a coup as another option to kill such a momentum.

Wassana cites the support  from the King’s Guard. She cites “Col Apirat Kongsompong, commander of the 11th Infantry Regiment.” She has this quote from him: “Those people whom I don’t want to name are suffering from psychosis. They don’t want to see the country return to normal. These people are meaningless to me.” Wasanna says Apirat is a “young turk” and that he and his “classmates from Class 20 at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School have come out to protect their leaders several times, including the previous army commander, Anupong Paojinda.” PPT also recalls that he was also seen in video shooting at red shirts with a pistol during events last year.

Apirat has said: “I can’t sit by idly if the army chief is criticised by politicians. I have to protect Gen Prayuth because he is a soldier loyal to the monarchy who does everything for the sake of the country and the army. I cannot leave him alone and let his reputation be damaged by these people. It’s my duty to protect him…”. Apirat has warned that the army’s patience is wearing thin and the next time it would be “unacceptable” if the monarchy is criticised and the army leader verbally attacked. He adds:

“We are ready to take any orders from the army chief…”.

Wassana concludes:

Now the public will have to wait and see how this conflict between politicians and soldiers will end, and who will come out on top.Gen Prayuth has, after all, implicitly given the green light for his men to protect the monarchy by showing their anger at the red shirts and displaying their force – but in the barracks only.

For now….





Prem’s desire?

29 07 2010

According to Wassana Nanuam in a really interesting story in the Bangkok Post, and was reported elsewhere a year or so ago, Privy Council president, former army commander and former and never elected prime minister, General Prem Tinsulanonda wants a cavalry division in Khon Kaen. PPT suspects, though, that more than anything else, the 90 year-old political manipulator and palace servant wants the red shirts crushed.

Like so many others who exist in the cloistered world of the upper echelons of the royalist elite, they believe that the red shirts were republican communists out to get rid of the monarchy. Drawing on the experience of fighting the Communist Party of Thailand from the 1960s, Prem and his ilk see the fight against the red shirts as requiring military suppression. That means strengthening the army.

Thailand’s army was never designed – right from when it was first established – to do much more than internal policing involving the suppression of, well, republicans and communists. When it has done real army-type things such as defending borders, it has usually been pretty hopeless. So it has concentrated on political activities. That’s still where it sits today.

Wassana extends on her earlier report on the military’s spending splurge. That report seemed to draw some criticism from the government, with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva decrying claims that the spending spree was motivated by the military’s desire to crush the red shirts. That claim seemed somewhat half-hearted, for being seen to want to crush the red shirts gets the support of the yellow shirts and the more rabid and royalist elements of the Democrat Party.

Wassana agrees that a 7th Infantry Division has long been on the army’s wishlist – as the premier said – but points out that it is only current supremo General Anupong Paojinda who has been able to “resurrect the idea” and at this important and significant juncture, thus raising “the question of whether there is more to the move, than simply a need to meet military demand.” Of course there is!

They will be continuing – with an investment of some 10 billion baht – the political work that Wassana reminds us began immediately after the 2006 coup. That political propaganda operation was “to reach out to rural villagers and to promote the role of the army…”. The Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) had a budget of “about one billion baht to send tens of thousands of soldiers into villages each year under the banner of ‘fight the economic crisis with the sufficiency economy philosophy’.”

Wassana reminds readers that following the army’s dispersal of red shirts on 19 May, the army and ISOC “recorded the names and addresses as well as ID cards of the red shirts involved before releasing them. The army then visited them at home to try to provide ‘healing’ in its own inimitable way.” Numerous villagers have reported threats from the military and people who appear seeming to have no uniform.

Readers are told that the army actually wants 16 infantry divisions; that’s a further 7 divisions and tens of thousands of troops. They seem to be preparing for a long internal war (even without considering the war in the south).

Wassana concludes: “there is no doubt that the hidden agenda of having a new division is to bring the force in to take care of ‘internal security’ concerns.” The agenda is barely “hidden.” She adds: “The North is undoubtedly a red zone. After the clash at Ratchaprasong, the army sees an increasing need to have soldiers operate in the field. Indeed, Gen Anupong and Deputy Prime Minister in charge of security, Suthep Thaugsuban, discussed the possibility of setting up the 7th Division since late 2009.”

She reveals that “resistance” to the army’s plan “is so strong that the army has prepared a back-up plan – to have the division’s headquarters in Lamphun instead. Critics of the army – which is viewed as being solidly on the Abhisit government’s side after the Ratchaprasong operation – have ventured so far as to speculate that the army is setting up the new division in preparation for the coming general election. After all, the [ISOC] is the army’s arm for political affairs.”

When Prem was thrown out in 1988, it seemed that the military era in Thai politics might have been over. That was reinforced in 1992. Thailand’s future now seems to intertwined with that of the military. The Democrat Party and the palace should be held responsible for this turn to the past and to authoritarianism. Prem, at least, must be feeling reasonably pleased at this outcome. Maybe he sleeps more easily as more people are jailed and subjected to repressive measures.





Military a farce

1 07 2010

PPT can’t add much to the story by Wassana Nanuam in the Bangkok Post headlined “More a professional farce than force that we have here.” If readers haven’t already done so, read her comments in full.





The queen again

21 04 2010

Wassana Nanuam has a story in the Bangkok Post (21 April 2010) on the Queen’s Guard perspective on 10 April. Of course, they did nothing much at all and got targeted and attacked by red shirts who are claimed to have been well-armed. Disingenuously, one soldier is quoted as saying: “But we never thought of harming the protesters…”. This is all good propaganda value regarding an army that has regularly killed civilians in major crackdowns since 1947.

The telling quote in the article is about the queen. Major General Krissada Duangurai, director of Phramongkutklao Hospital, says that she “visited injured soldiers at the hospital last Thursday and commended them for their efforts to protect the country.”

While we do not support General Chavalit’s call for royal intervention, the claim by many, now including the Bangkok Post in an editorial, that the “appeal for royal intervention is completely inappropriate” because the monarchy is “a revered position which is completely impartial and above politics” is nothing but royalist tripe.

As PPT has said before, it is clear that the palace – a remarkably political institution – wants the red shirts crushed.








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