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.



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