The alliance of the military and monarchy goes back to the foundation of the modern military under the absolutist King Chulalongkorn.That link was broken with the 1932 Revolution.
Despite continuous struggle between the 1932 Promoters and the royalists, the monarchy-military alliance was not fully re-established and made exceptionally strong under the military dictator General Sarit Thanarat and the military-dominated regimes that followed.
Sarit took over a boy-king who came to the throne after the death of his brother, with an ambitious mother and surrounded by restorationist princes. It was only after the 1973 uprising against military dictatorship that the current king began to really feel his oats. With the military’s role in politics reduced and challenged, it was left to the king to maintain the alliance in the interests of the rising royalist elite.
By 1976, the military was back, with the support of the monarchy, following the military-backed murder of workers, peasant leaders and students that came, in part, from the monarch’s expressions of concern and fear about the rise of the Left.
This potted history leads to the big challenge that faced the alliance in May 1992. Then, as is its penchant, the military brass decided to gun down civilians protesting yet another military attempt to dominate politics.
These events saw the military in disgrace and the monarchy worked hard to rehabilitate its murderous allies. The usual image – endlessly promoted in palace propaganda – is of the king sorting out the crisis, with his meeting with the military premier General Suchinda Kraprayoon and the self-proclaimed protest leader Chamlong Srimuang.
This video shows the meeting, which included privy councilors General Prem Tinsulanonda and Sanya Dharmasakti. It is preceded by calls from Prince Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn.
The king’s belated intervention in the events was meant to “save” the military. Even so, the military was shunned by a stunned public following the attacks on demonstrators.
Within a few short months, however, the king was speaking to rehabilitate his allies. As reported in the Bangkok Post on 15 November 1992, this was expressed in this way:
Recently there has been much talk about having too many generals, and why is there such ceremony to confer two hundred more general ranks to military personnel? … In truth, if we compare with foreign countries to the west or east or us we will find that they all have as many generals as us. One difference is that when their generals move to other jobs, they are no longer called generals.
Even in the United States, when a general becomes president he will be called mister which makes it seem as if they have fewer generals. But in Thailand those with a military rank retains it even when they go to work in other jobs. This is because they consider it an honour, an indication of a man with good performance. No matter what job you do, if they carry the rank with them, it is an honour, and it makes their colleagues trust them.
Therefore the number of generals in the country must be taken as not too many. We are not top-heavy. So do not feel disheartened after listening to those words, since it is only a kind of tongue wagging, and it is not damaging.
In fact, according to the Thai concept, those with a military rank consider it an honour which makes them proud and any job they do will be done better because of this realisation of the honour. There is no negative side to this. If they are transferred to other job or retired, their military salary Will not be tied to their rank. This means that the government does not have to pay more because of it.
But every person who acquired a military rank is proud of it. He will do a good service without the government having to pay him any extra salary. It is a way of saving government budget. If an army officer loses his rank when he is transferred to another unit he will feel sorry and may be discouraged. If there is a military rank attached to him when he works outside the military service it will encourage him to work efficiently, and the country will benefit more from him.
The king’s support for the rehabilitation of a murderous military is an act of loyalty and one of self-protection.
One result is that the military was not reformed, meaning it was again able to conduct coups in 2006 and 2014, seeing off supposed threats to the palace and the status quo.