King’s men I

26 09 2020

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post’s Wassana Nanuam had another of those posterior polishing articles on the new Army boss, Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae.

Paul Chambers describes Gen Narongphan:

Narongphan’s elevation through the ranks has been extremely rapid since the beginning of the current reign. He is the former commander of the Royal Rachawallop 904 Special Military Task Force and considered extremely loyal to the current monarch. He is rumoured to be much more virulently reactionary than [Gen] Apirat [Kongsompong] and will serve as Army Chief for three years until he retires in 2023.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

As can be seen in the attached photo, Gen Narongphan wears his 904 haircut, red-rimmed t-shirt and proudly supports a chestful of royal symbols of “closeness,” including the 904 and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti badges.

The Post’s story has Gen Narongphan heaping praise retiring generals – almost 270 of them – including Gen Apirat for having “dedicated their time and energy to fulfilling their duties to protect the nation’s sovereignty and the public interest and to maintain law and order.”

Most of these generals have probably been honing their golfing skills, collecting loot from the “sale” of their rank and influence, and shining the seats of their pants, but we acknowledge that some, like Apirat, were dead keen to take up arms against civilian protesters. “Law and order” means maintaining royalist-rightist regimes or as Gen Narongphan succinctly explains: “Protecting the monarchy with absolute loyalty and supporting the government to resolve national problems and working to advance the country are tasks for which [the generals] deserve the honour…”.

Worryingly for those who hope that there might be a more democratic Thailand, Gen Narongphan pledged to support the military-royalist “ideologies and perform our duties to the best of our ability, to ensure peace in society, foster national unity and support the country’s development…”. What does he mean by “peace”? Based on previous evidence, we suspect it means “defeating” civilian demonstrators, again and again.

Reading this puff piece, we were reminded of a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, All the king’s strongmen.

It points out the obvious when it comes to the military and its government:

The seemingly endless cycle of military coups that interrupt democracy. A government plagued with allegations of corruption and nepotism. The former army chief with the suspiciously large luxury watch collection. The cabinet minister who was jailed in Sydney for conspiracy to traffic heroin. The lack of investigation into the disappearance and murder of dissidents. The king who would rather live in Germany.

The anti-government protests, it points out, have been heavy on symbolism. For last weekend, the “sites are significant; a campus massacre by the armed forces in 1976 left [at least] 45 people dead, hundreds injured and continues to haunt the country. More recently Sanam Luang has been subsumed into the giant and opaque Crown Property Bureau (CPB), and protesters have declared their intention to return it to the people.”

While the sudden appearance of naysayer conservatives (posing as liberals) have come out to lecture the students on how to rally and how to demand change, the SMH correctly observes that the “focus is squarely on Thailand’s political class and the powers that have long acted with impunity.”

As might be expected, the SMH points at “cabinet enforcer Thammanat Prompao, who … spent four years in a Sydney jail on a drugs conviction.” It goes on:

When Thammanat was sitting across from detectives making a statement in Parramatta jail on November 10, 1993, the first thing the young soldier put on the record was his connection to royalty.

After graduating from army cadet school in 1989 he “was commissioned as a bodyguard for the crown prince of Thailand” as a first lieutenant. “I worked in the crown prince’s household to the beginning of 1992,” he said, staying until deployed to help suppress a political conflict that culminated in an army-led massacre in Bangkok.

The crown prince is now King Vajiralongkorn, but the name landed like a thud: the judge made no mention of it when sentencing Thammanat over his part in moving 3.2 kilograms of heroin from Bangkok to Bondi.

Since the scandal broke last year, Thammanat not only kept his post but was named among [Gen] Prawit [Wongsuwan]’s deputies within the ruling Palang Pracharat party.

Prawit and the convicted heroin smuggler

The article also points out why the monarchy is a critical target: “As military figures loom large in political circles, they are also pervasive in Vajiralongkorn’s business dealings.”

His personal private secretary is an air chief marshal who is the chairman of two listed companies, a director of a bank, chairs the board of eight other companies and is the director-general of the Crown Property Bureau.

The CPB’s assets are estimated at anywhere between $40 and $70 billion, and were made Vajiralongkorn’s personal property in mid-2018.

Protesters want this returned to the state [PPT: not really; they ask for state oversight], along with greater control and oversight over the taxpayer money spent on the royal family.

Also on the CPB board is General Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief set for mandatory retirement this month who has been at the centre of coup rumours. The son of one of the men who led the coup in 1992, Apirat is known for his ultra-royalist views and is set to take up a senior position within the royal household on leaving the army.

At the CPB, 8 of the 11 directors now carry military or police rank.

All the king’s men.


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