Updated: King controls Army, Air Force and Police

29 08 2020

The winner in this years reshuffles of the military and police is King Vajiralongkorn. While loyalists have been in charge of these forces for decades, the palace has always had and expressed preferences. Vajiralongkorn has previously been involved in contests over the appointment of police chiefs.

Yet the recent approval of heads of Army, Air Force and Police suggest that the appointments have all been made to satisfy the king.

Nikkei Asian Review has recently recounted how “[t]rusted military allies of Thailand’s monarch have moved to extend their reach into the armed forces…”.

Whether this amounts to “alienating Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha from a pillar he needs to prop up his government,” remains to be seen. After all, Gen Prayuth is a staunch royalist and has been premier for more than six years. The last prime minister to serve longer was Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, another royalist, and he had to face down coup attempts.

According to unnamed sources, it was palace favorite and Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong who boosted “Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, the assistant army chief, to succeed him in September as the new commander of the army, which has 335,000 active-duty troops.”

Gen Narongphan is known to be trusted by Vajiralongkorn while Gen Prayuth is reported to have  favored Gen. Natthapon Nakpanich, the deputy army chief. But, of course, it is the king “who wields ultimate authority in this Southeast Asian kingdom.”

The report goes on to observe:

In a country where demonstrations of loyalty to the monarchy are prized, both Apirat and Narongphan wear theirs around their neck — special shirts with a red rim around the collar. The shirts show they have passed special training for soldiers in the elite Royal Command Guard, also known as Royal Guard 904, which answers only to the king.

The two generals also belong to the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based military faction with a rich army pedigree. The monarch himself served in the ranks of the Wongthewan, as the King’s Guard is called in Thai, during military service in the 1970s while he was crown prince.

Given the king’s connections with the Air Force and with Air Chief Marshall Sathitpong Sukwimol as his long-serving private secretary the rise of palace loyalist Air Chief Marshall Airbull Suttiwan has been expected.

Meanwhile, at the police, Gen. Suwat “Big Pud” Chaengyodsuk, “a former commander of a royal protection police unit” has been approved as the next national police chief. Big Pud is reported to have “attended the same military cadet class with the current army chief Gen. Apirat … and was a classmate of Chakthip [Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda, current police chief] when they studied at the Royal Police Cadet Academy.”

Most significantly, Big Pud commanded the “police commando unit tasked with providing security to the Royal Family members and carrying out other tasks assigned by King Vajiralongkorn.”

The chances are that after these appointments are approved that a harder line will be taken against students and anti-monarchists.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that there’s been pushback on the Air Force appointment, with Air Chief Marshall Airbull reportedly pushed aside after complaints, that included barb that “the nomination of ACM Airbull from ‘a special signal’ was damaging.” In the past, unless Vajiralongkorn has changed his mind, he has tended to be insistent. Let’s watch this.


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10 10 2020
King’s man | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] in late August, we posted on the new commanders of the martial forces in Thailand, observing that the big winner was King […]

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