Forgetting history

31 12 2018

The Bangkok Post seems to have had a brain fade. In an editorial, the history of the 1980s is rewritten with little attention to the facts.

It begins with a contradiction: “Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was last involved formally in politics just over 30 years ago. Last week, he climbed back into the ring for just a few moments.” If Prem’s advice to and support of The Dictator was a political involvement, then he’s been doing this for decades, even before he became Army chief in 1978.

It continues:

Gen Prem was prime minister of Thailand for twice as long as Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] has served, with less than half the disputes. No democrat desires a military leader, but everyone admits Gen Prem earned his title of “statesman”.

This is historical buffalo manure. Prem seized the premiership with palace support and the support of military factions. A commentary at the time stated:

In March of this year, General Kriangsak Chomanan was forced to step down as Prime Minister of Thailand and was replaced by his rival, General Prem Tinsulanond. Unlike his predecessor whose bickering with the royal house may have hastened his downfall, Prem has the confidence of the monarchy.

This wasn’t a coup, but was seen at the time as a silent or pseudo-coup. Emphasizing this, for a time, Prem remained Army commander while premier (FEER, 12 Sept. 1980).

In power and never facing election, Prem faced several coups (links to a short PDF), only prevailing because the king took him in as a much-loved unelected military leader, which encouraged the military to congeal around Prem. In fact, Prem went through three administrations as five cabinets. In this sense, the current military dictatorship has been more stable!

Prem also faced several assassination attempts, and there were countless disputes that destabilized the government and forced several reshuffles. Using the palace’s support and the support of parts of a factionalized military, Prem hung on until he was pushed from the premiership in 1988 – Wikipedia also gets this transition wrong – by anti-Prem and anti-military movements including the Petition of 99 (clicking downloads a short PDF).

Clearly, then, the editorial writer at the Bangkok Post has forgotten the history of which it was a part. It gets worse when the editorial states: “The 98-year-old president of the Privy Council made no attempt to keep political power when he left the prime minister’s post to an elected, civilian regime in 1988.” We can simply point to Wikipedia and the notion of the network monarchy (clicking downloads a 21-page PDF) as examples of Prem trying to manipulate everything to do with Thailand’s politics.

The Post should get its history right and then it might see the similarities between Prem and Prayuth.


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