Abhisit, monarchy and Chavalit

20 04 2010

As PPT noted in an earlier post, there has been considerable government and yellow shirt opposition to Puea Thai Party leader General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh seeking an audience with the king on the current political crisis. The Bangkok Post (20 April 2010) has reported on an intensification of the criticism.

As might be expected, royalists come out to claim “their king” for themselves and their own political purposes. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came up with the obvious malarkey about “[i]nvolving the royal institution with politics is inappropriate…”. Of course, when his side of politics does it, that’s just fine. Abhisit claimed to speak for everyone when he said: “I believe members of the public agree with me that it would not be appropriate to involve the royal institution in politics.” He added that, “Many sides doubt the intentions [of Gen Chavalit]…”. His side anyway, although we should add that PPT believes that there should be no royal intervention. Abhisit, however, has a track record of involving the monarchy in politics. Deputy prime ministers Suthep Thaugsuban, Trairong Suwannakiri and Sanan Kachornprasart also attacked Chavalit.

Abhisit then went further and claimed that “Chavalit’s statement showed that he could be masterminding all the anti-government activities. The target was beyond a call for a House dissolution.” He is accusing Chavalit of republicanism. This is an interesting claim, and can be taken back to rumors in the late 1980s that Chavalit was disliked in the palace and believed to be a closet republican for his statements about Thailand’s need of a “revolutionary council” (sapha patiwat) in 1987.

None of this stops the government and its yellow-shirted backers from using the monarchy to support their own struggle to stay in power.

There are three interesting and longish footnotes to this story that are kind of royal related. The first relates to a Bangkok Post (20 April 2010) report that the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation has appointed “Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, director of the Justice Ministry’s Central Institute of Forensic Science” to CRES. Porntip has long been close to the palace and is usually described as “a respected forensic expert” but who actually has a very thin record (see, for example,  Siam Report). She does have a strong record of being involved in politically-motivated investigations. PPT assumes that one of her roles at CRES will be to support the government’s position on the 10 April killings.

The second footnote relates to another Bangkok Post report that the site of almost all of Thailand’s major demonstrations and of the killing and maiming on 10 April is going to be closed to further demonstrations. The reactionary Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department “has proposed registering Ratchadamnoen Avenue as an historical site…”. The reason? “Giving it an historical identity would mean heavy jail terms and fines for anyone who damages any of the properties along the avenue or who illegally trespasses on it.” The Department added that “People can still rally along the avenue but they will face legal action if they cause any damage.” PPT wonders if the government would have to pay for damage. After all, it is the government that usually shoots these monuments up.

The palace has been gradually closing bits of the broader area to demonstrators for some time. For example, the small plaque commemorating the 1932 Revolution at the Royal Plaza has been the site of a tug-of-war with the palace.

The third footnote refers to a report in The Nation on the Cabinet’s decision to appoint “the wife of the colonel in charge of dispersing red-shirt protesters at Phan Fa on April 10 as an advisor to the prime minister.” It stated that “Nisha Hirunburana, director of Central Administrative Office, Science and Technology Ministry, was made an advisor for social affairs for the prime minister…”.

As readers will recall, Colonel Romklao Thuwatham’s death while in charge of some of the troops charged with suppressing the red shirt demonstration on 10 April caused a flurry of media reports and tributes. Indeed, both the queen and crown prince attended his funeral. This was a sign of respect for a soldier close to the palace and a statement of palace support for the government’s repression of the red shirts.

Abhisit’s symbolic gesture is a call to unity and for support for the government from an army now seen as riven and, hence, unreliable.


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