Abhisit, Prem and military rule

1 04 2010

PPT has regularly referred to the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led administration as a “military-backed” government. This designation reflects the manner in which the current government came to power and the support is has had from the current military leadership.

The Bangkok Post (31 March 2010) has an article that suggests that “military-backed” may be terminology that is too limited. It raises the question of who is in charge in Thailand. With Abhisit flying off to seemingly less than urgent meetings in Brunei and Bahrain in the midst of a political crisis, the question becomes more urgent as the premier seems unconcerned for his position.

The articles makes the point that it is the army that “is playing a key role in Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s decision to rule out a quick dissolution of parliament as favoured by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.”  It adds that: “One issue that is preventing the prime minister from launching an election campaign any time soon is the military reshuffle to find a successor to army chief Anupong Paojinda.” PPT has made this point previously.

More significantly, the article states that the Democrat Party-led coalition “is receiving full backing from the army which has sent 70,000 troops to control the situation in Bangkok since the latest round of street rallies by red shirt demonstrators began.” That’s the largest number of troops we’ve seen for Bangkok in recent weeks. It underlines the significance the army leadership puts on maintaining this government.

It is also a change from the lack of support previous governments received from Anupong. A trip to the airport shows the double standard. Now there are hundreds of troops at the airport whereas when the People’s Alliance for Democracy took it over in 2008, there were none to be had.

And, as PPT might have expected, it is not just the military position that is important, but also palace support. The article states: “The signals being sent to Mr Abhisit from the army and even Si Sao Thewes (the residence of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda) are that the prime minister must be patient in countering protests by the UDD and refuse to dissolve the parliament at least until the end of the year.”

Why is this? The obvious answer is that this is the palace/military preferred government. They want it to stay as long as possible. The article has it that “[p]resent and former top brass believe the Democrats and the coalition partners will have an edge over Puea Thai if Mr Abhisit holds on to administrative power for some time before announcing the end of the legislative assembly. The government can use all available mechanisms and budget to counter the financial ammunition supplied by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to the opposition party.”

In addition there are said to be two important issues for the: “budget approval for the next fiscal year which also involves arms procurement projects proposed by the armed forces and the reshuffle of top military leaders.” The leadership of the government, the palace and the military power brokers are determined that deputy army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha be selected as Anupong’s  successor, giving him (and them) undisputed control over the army for a further 4 years. Equally important, the Democrat Party cannot win an election without military funding, force and votes. In addition, while nominally under the premier, the military-run  “Internal Security Operations Command, with an annual budget of more than 8 billion baht and 700,000 staff members, can be a key instrument to canvass for the Democrats during election campaigns especially in the northern and eastern areas where Puea Thai’s influence is still strong.”

And, if “the Democrats do not emerge the winner in the next elections, the army can play a role in influencing the coalition parties now with Mr Abhisit not to defect to Puea Thai.” As they did in December 2008 when they got the Democrat Party and Abhisit into power.

Some have asked if Thailand currently has a civilian government or whether the Abhisit administration is just a puppet of the military and palace? It’s a good question. This is an article worth pondering at length.


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