Updated: The army and Yingluck

20 08 2011

If readers haven’t seen it, the article in Asia Times Online by John Cole and Steve Sciaccitano is worth a look. The authors are introduced as having “spent several years in Thailand while on active duty with the US Army. Both were trained as Foreign Area Officers specializing in Southeast Asia and graduated from the Royal Thai Army’s Command and General Staff College. They are now retired and the views expressed here are their own.” There views are likely to reflect some inside knowledge and connections.

It is a long article, so PPT isn’t about to summarize it here. Rather, we wish to highlight a few points.

The article makes the all-too-obvious point that new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s cabinet selections had to be sensitive to the poor relationship between it and current Army boss, royalist and Democrat Party-supporting General Prayuth Chan-ocha as well as other military leaders and factions:

The two most important cabinet appointments … are that of deputy prime minister for security, retired police General Kowit Wattana, and the minister of defense, retired army General Yuthasak Sasiprapha. The selection of Kowit and Yuthasak reflects very careful political consideration, and undoubtedly indicates a desire by the new government not only to appoint trusted allies to critical posts, but also not to threaten overtly either the military establishment or royal palace.

The authors seem to think that despite all of the discussion about watermelon soldiers and different political affiliations for the military and police that:

many observers of Thai politics, including much of the international media, tend to overestimate greatly the seeming monolithic nature of the Thai military. The false impression is often given that Thai military and police officers are more or less unified in their views and goals….

The story then discusses the patronage system and different loyalties associated with different classes in academies. They add that: “[l]oyalty to the monarchy has been a given…”.

PPT isn’t so sure. Loyalty to the monarchy has really only been established since the 1960s. Even then, loyalty was not to be taken for granted. Indeed, one of the major tasks of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda from his time as prime minister has been to ensure that palace favorites were in the senior military positions.

Looking at affiliations and loyalties, the article notes Kowit’s career as a “graduate of both the AFPS [Armed Forces Prep School] and the Police Academy” and in the Border Patrol Police (BPP), stating that “the BPP has always been under the operational control of the Thai military…”. The author’s add that “the royal family was and is still the major benefactor and patron of the BPP,” with “[v]irtually every BPP senior officer, as well as most of its rising stars, were in the BPP’s early days all personally well-known to members of the royal family.”

Continuing the royal connection, Kowit attended the “Royal Thai Army Command and General Staff College (Class 56). This was the same staff college class attended by Crown Price Vajiralongkorn…”.

Finally it is noted that, for a short time, Kowit was a somewhat reluctant member of the 2006 junta.

The 74 year-old Yuthasak should probably be out to pasture but has been recalled to face the challenge of the Army’s relationship with the new government. He is said to have:

… graduated from the CRMA [Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy] (Class 8 ) and exemplifies what might be called the traditional elite side of the Royal Thai Army (RTA). He is married to one of the three daughters of the late national leader [and, PPT points out, one of the “three tyrants” thrown out of Thailand in 1973] Field Marshal Praphat Charusatien and is the son of a famous three-star army general.

His career was associated with the “Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division (King’s Guard), then the most prestigious unit in the RTA and the choice assignment for sons of generals and important politicians.” He’s close to General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh but not to Prem, the palace or the current Army leadership.

Even so, he appears to have respect as a military man who is senior to the current batch of leaders.

The article assumes that conflict with the military will always be a threat to the Yingluck government, noting especially that

… the members of AFPS Class 24 and their supporters throughout the Thai military have neither forgotten nor forgiven the killing of their classmate Colonel Romklao Thuwatham … during the army’s suppression of pro-Thaksin protests on April 10, 2010. Romklao’s death was an important factor in strengthening and unifying the Thai officer corps before the final May crackdown on protesters, a development not fully appreciated by most in the media.

The first big test of the relationship is the military reshuffle, “which will become effective on October 1” but already being considered. Another test will be:

the procurement of new weapons and equipment by the various military services. The new government’s likely decision to reemphasize the existing system that centralizes the process for all equipment and weapons acquisitions at the ministry of defense and the defense council will likely be strongly resisted…. While in recent years the principle of centralized procurements has been well-established, the reality has been that only under Thaksin was the procedure strictly implemented and adhered to, with the prime minister having the final say…. Following Thaksin’s 2006 removal, the process lapsed into a structure without an effective government veto. Individual commanders-in-chief of the three armed services were almost always able to push through their preferred deals – with sometimes disastrous results.

Other  potential sticking points are mentioned. PPT just wonders how long Prayuth can hold his tongue reasonably in check; he’s known for flying off the handle. The article is worth reading.

Update: Although looking at the issue more broadly and with a quite different ideological perspective, this article at World Socialist Web Site is worth reading too. PPT noted this comment:

In her first speech as prime minister, Yingluck called on Thais to rally around King Bhumibol Adulyadej and declared that he would serve as her “guiding light”. This public kowtowing to the monarchy is aimed at appeasing staunch royalists, including those in the military high command, who have accused Thaksin and particularly the pro-Thaksin “Red Shirt” protest organisation, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), of disrespect for the king.


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