Further updated: Wichien runs to Prem

30 08 2011

The Bangkok Post has an interesting account of the troubles facing national police chief Police General Wichien Potposri. According to the Post, Wichien was appointed less than a year ago. That’s a little misleading, for then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva first appointed Wichien as acting police chief in August 2009, for a short time, but he remained the most powerful cop as the incumbent just served out his time for a further year.

Wichien’s appointment by Abhisit was full of controversy. PPT’s first post was here, and there were others. A useful summary is provided at Bangkok Pundit where the Class 12 links between Wichien and now Army boss Prayuth Chan-ocha are noted.

As Bangkok Pundit notes, Wichien was previously head of the Office of the Royal Court Security Police. Also, under the junta-backed government of privy councilor-cum-prime minister Surayud Chulanond, Wichien was responsible for security and in particular for working with provincial governors to “curb possible violence throughout Thailand.” In other words, he worked with the junta – the Council for National Security – to crack down on potential demonstrations opposing the military-backed government, including limiting the freedom of movement of rural people. During the 2007 general election, he was “in charge of advance balloting.” Under Abhisit he was given responsibility for security and “special operations.”

Back then, Wichien made clear he was a royalist. As reported in The Nation, he said “his top priorities included safeguarding the monarchy, ensuring the job performance of the police service, and developing the police forces to become worthy of the public trust.”

With a new government in place and, as the Post has it (who didn’t know?), “Chuvit Kamolvisit’s exposure of illegal casinos in Bangkok and other complaints that the police have been unable to contain rampant drug abuse and gambling in the city,” he’s in trouble. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung has called for a reshuffle of the police.

Wichien’s first public move to protect himself is to run to see chief of the royalist faction, Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda. Wichien claimed that Prem “offered him moral support during the meeting.” He added:

“[Gen Prem] said he is glad I’m the police chief and he acknowledged that I have tried my best and have sacrificed a lot, and he asked me to continue to do good…”.

Adding to the impression that Wichien’s replacement is going to stir up a royalist hornet’s nest, former Democrat Party Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said he “opposed any replacement of Pol Gen Wichean. He said Pol Gen Wichean was capable and good, and illegal casinos and drug abuse alone were not enough to justify his replacement.” Interestingly, Suthep made the good point that if drugs and gambling were reasons for removal, “no successor could stay in office either.” He’s right. Thailand’s police are hopelessly corrupt to the top. However, the battle over Wichien is really about loyalty to the elected government. It is absolutely clear that the royalist Wichien owes his position to Abhisit.

Going to visit Prem is unlikely to have been without Prem’s instigation. This marks a significant point in the relationship between Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and the anti-Thaksin palace.

In an interview conducted after he met Prem and carried in the Bangkok Post, Wichien stakes out his royalist political ground:

I have said it before: I have never considered resigning from the position….

As the national police chief, when I make decisions I think about the country, the people and especially the institution of the monarchy….

He [Prem] gave me blessings. It is a delight to receive blessings from a respected person. Gen Prem reiterated the importance of loyalty and how the police are obligated to provide protection to Their Majesties. He has also talked about the police’s duty to safeguard the general public….

… He talked about His Majesty’s concern for the people. It is the police’s job to protect the people and look after them. It is the service we are obliged to perform for His Majesty.

He told me it is good to have me as chief of police. He told me he has heard a lot of good things about me. He encouraged me to keep up the good work and be a role model for the police. He told me that I should be proud of myself and happy that I have devoted myself to the job and sacrificed myself for others.

Asked if Prem wants him to stay as police chief, Wichien was clear: “Yes.”

Prem is a master of the political game and his meeting with Wichien makes it clear the palace is heavily involved in politicking on this case. It would also seem that the palace has a lot to protect. The Abhisit government placed plenty of loyal royalists in senior positions. The new government knows that the loyalty of these people is always going to be to their real political masters and not the elected government. Moving them is going to pose real challenges and will be a point of conflict between the government and palace.

Update 1: Pressure on Wichien to leave has increased and The Nation reports that he seems to have decided to go. So does the Bangkok Post, noting that he has agreed to leave “under pressure.” Yellow-shirted media are unhappy.

Update 2: It seems the yellow multi-colors shirts led by Tul Sitthisomwong are unhappy about Wichien’s ouster. They are to rally at police headquarters. Tul states: “The rally is not meant for protect Wichean Potephosee but to safeguard the police service from the political meddling…”. That’s odd, PPT doesn’t recall them rallying when Abhisit was trying to hoist his preferred candidate for police chief into place in a vociferously political manner…. While political meddling in the police is to be frowned upon, the control the Democrat Party sought is now to be rolled back. What the police really need is a complete clean-up. It is a hopelessly corrupt agency. It seems unlikely that such a needed process can take place in a highly politicized environment. The promotion of Priewphan Damapong to the chief’s job will see continued political action around the police (readers might like to search our blog for Priewphan to see his links to Thaksin Shinawatra.



One response

5 09 2011
Prem and royalist reaction | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] PPT always reads Bangkok Pundit and like many others, find the blog insightful and thought-provoking.Hence we were struck by the rapid consignment to the political grave given to Privy Councilor General Prem Tinsulanonda following the dumping of Wichien Potposri just hours after the police chief had seemingly tried to protect himself by running off to get Prem’s support: […]

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