Further updated: Jingosim and the military

26 01 2011

Yesterday PPT posted about the political conservatism of the elite and their fear of political mobilization, except when they control it. It seems to PPT that there is currently a struggle for control of mobilization continuing with the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

The Bangkok Post suggests that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is increasingly accepting of the ultra-nationalism of PAD but linking that with the bastion of conservatism and jingoism that resides within the military.

So it is that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has “given the army the green light to conduct a military exercise near Preah Vihear temple to display its strength as Cambodia continues to lay claim to the disputed area.” Even the normally Abhisit-fawning Bangkok Post considers this a “provocative move.” This exercise was proposed by the army.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha is staking out “nationalist” ground that will allow a degree of control of the agenda that is allowing PAD to mobilize. This may be faux jingoism given that the Thai army has a history of not doing all that well when facing anything other than domestic opposition. Real armies seem something else again.

However, Prayuth has declared a kind of border dispute and is increasing  the temperature and tension: “There are three steps to solving border issues. They include negotiations, intensified measures and the use of force. We will not move directly from Step 1 to Step 3,” Prayuth said.

Prayuth added: “We must show our strength,” when discussing the matter with Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon. This includes deploying more infantry in the border area, reinforcing rangers already there. Apparently, the army has been incensed by a Cambodian sign placed at Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara, next to the Preah Vihear temple, that read: “Here! is the place where Thai troops invaded Cambodian territory on July 15, 2008.” It is reported that this sign “angered Thai troops, their commanders and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva…”.

As a further pressure on Cambodia, Abhisit “also gave the nod to the army to prevent Thai gamblers from crossing the border to visit Cambodian casinos in Poi Pet, opposite Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaeo province.” Abhisit is also reported to “have agreed to allow the army to buy weapons it needed to handle the border situation.”

PAD has “urged the government to use the country’s stronger military capacity to gain leverage over the Cambodian government in its negotiations with Phnom Penh on disputed border areas.” PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang “said the Thai military did not have to wage a war with Cambodia to regain Thai sovereignty over disputed areas along the border. But it could use the country’s military might to gain a stronger bargaining position.” Chamlong added: “Our fighter jets can reach Cambodian skies in five minutes.”

For more of the jingoism of the PAD, see the ASTV/Manager website. Note especially the ultra-nationalist and threatening speech by General Pathompong Kesornsuk (in Thai). The message seems to be: give PAD what it wants or you are out and chase out the Cambodians.

PAD are pushing Abhisit and his response appears to be to try to show his “strength” and resolve through his friends in the military. It remains to be seen if raising the stakes is a strategy that leads to border clashes or worse.

Update 1: Bangkok Pundit questions the story in the Bangkok Post and raises questions regarding the general approach taken by the Post’s military affairs reporter. We believe that the Post report is generally accurate of discussions that have taken place, based on reliable reader comments we received. We believe that the thrust of our interpretation is also reasonable. Part of the competition with PAD (and with Cambodia) is about jingoism and muscle-flexing.

Update 2: The Economist has story on the PAD demonstration.