King’s man

10 10 2020

If anyone thought the protesters were exaggerating the role the king plays in the administration of the country, the recent media censorship/self censorship of the story on German criticism of King Vajiralongkorn would seem to prove the protester’s point.

If more evidence was needed, look at the air force.

Back in late August, we posted on the new commanders of the martial forces in Thailand, observing that the big winner was King Vajiralongkorn. The most senior appointments were made to satisfy the king.

Of course, loyalists have long been in charge of the armed forces, and the palace has always had and expressed preferences, with Vajiralongkorn having previously been involved in contests over the appointment of police chiefs. But the most recent appointments were the clearest yet of Vajiralongkorn exercising his political influence.

On the air force appointment, a few days ago, Khaosod reported that Air Chief Marshal Airbull Suttiwan’s sudden rise and appointment as air force chief was controversial.

It states that a year ago, ACM Airbull “was an air force officer working in a relatively junior position as an ‘expert’,” and that “[h]e did not command any force.”In providing further background, the report points out that:

Unlike previous air force chiefs, Airbull was never assigned to a combat squadron – a job that’s supposed to provide the candidates with an understanding of air supremacy and how to defend Thailand’s air space. Airbull spent most of his time as a pilot with the C-130 transport aircraft.

In other words, he was not in line to be air force commander.

The report states that his sudden rise to the top came as a “surprise of seniors in the force and outsiders alike.”

Former air force boss, ACM Manaat Wongwat denied that there had been any “external influence” in the “curious decision that reportedly left the air force seething with anger.”

No one believed Manaat. It was widely known that the king wanted Airbull.

Indeed, the anger in the air force cause the Bangkok Post to report in late August:

ACM Airbull, an air force specialist, was earlier reported to have been nominated by ACM Maanat as his successor and the nomination approved by Prime Mnister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is also defence minister.

The source said the change came about during the weekend, when other candidates for the job moved in protest.

According to the source, a former air force chief called Gen Prayut on the telephone, voicing disapproval of the nomination of ACM Airbull and saying there were other air force officers suitable for the position.

This was a brave move against the king’s man.

More recently, ACM Manaat came up with ludicrous explanations for Airbull’s promotion, claiming he was the best candidate and invoking an “evaluation” said to be “based on ‘six characteristics, 10 quotients’ criteria reportedly invented by the air force founder, Prince Chakrabongse.” This prince has been propagandized as “the father of the army’s Royal Aeronautical Service, a forerunner to the Royal Thai Air Force.” He died in 1920. His name and the so-called criteria is a royalist feint, described by Khaosod as “an apparent attempt to discourage questions from the public…”.

The royal intervention means that there are topics “beyond what Khaosod English can publish.” That’s the self-censorship and management pressure that stifles discussion of the monarch, even when he is engaging in activities that are beyond his constitutional role.

But the article hints, referring to a military beat reporter who states: “Everyone knows why Airbull is selected, but they can’t just talk about it… You can try asking the officers around, but no one wouldn’t dare to talk about it.”

Airbull’s loyalty to the king is legendary, displayed in his ridiculous haircut that is the 904 style that the king demands. Khaosod states that:

Airbull rose up the ranks throughout the following years, serving as an air force attache to different countries, but perhaps the most significant of all was his post to Germany, where previous air force chiefs such as Maanat and Chaiyapruk Didyasarin had [also] served.

Of course, Germany has been the king’s principal residence for several years. So it is his connection to the king and his displays of loyalty that get him a top job.

And, of course, In his first media appearance “Airbull pledged his allegiance to the monarchy…”.

Clearly and emphatically, the king is engaging in matters that are beyond his constitutional mandate. The protesters are right to demand that the king be reigned in.

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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