Thailand in Crisis (in Washington DC)

6 05 2014

A couple of readers have sent us conference announcement. It is is Washington DC, but looks interesting enough. While the participants may seem the “usual suspects,” in fact, this is quite a different bunch than is usually wheeled out for “policy dialogues” in DC.

The Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies is pleased to present:
Thailand in Crisis: Scenarios and Policy Responses


Tuesday May 13, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
CSIS 2nd Floor Conference Room
1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington DC

To RSVP please click here. Please RSVP before Monday, May 12, 2014.

The Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies is pleased to invite you to Thailand in Crisis: Scenarios and Policy Responses that will be held on Tuesday May 13, 2014, 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Thailand is working through a historic political crisis which will likely shape the future of how political power is organized and used in the country. Thailand plays an integral role in the region, and it is important for the United States to sustain engagement with a stable Thailand as part of its rebalance to Asia. This all -day conference will provide a much needed discussion that will focus on possible scenarios for Thailand’s volatile political situation and the implications for U.S. policy.
Follow the event on Twitter @SoutheastAsiaDC ǀ @CSIS ǀ #CSISLive


Thailand in Crisis: Scenarios & Policy Responses
May 13, 2014
Center for Strategic and International Studies
2nd Floor Conference Room
1616 Rhode Island Ave, NW, Washington DC
Tentative Agenda
0830 Registration of Participants

0900 Panel One: Why Thailand Matters to the United States
The Hon. Scot Marciel, U.S. Department of State
Dr. Amy Searight, U.S. Department of Defense
Moderator: Mr. Ernest Z. Bower, CSIS

0945 Discussion: Putting Modern Thai Politics in a Historical Context
Introductory remarks: Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University
Moderator: Mr. Murray Hiebert, CSIS

1015 Coffee Break

1030 Panel Two: How the crisis will shape the future political order
Mr. Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch
Dr. Duncan McCargo, University of Leeds
Mr. Shawn Crispin, AsiaTimes Online
Mr. Tony Davis, Jane’s Defense Weekly (Invited)
Moderator: Mr. Ernest Z. Bower, CSIS

1145 Luncheon

1215 Panel Three: Policy Options for the United States

Mr. Frank Jannuzi, The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation (Invited)
Mr. Josh Kurlantzick, Council on Foreign Relations
Mr. Ernest Z. Bower, CSIS
Moderator: Mr. Murray Hiebert, CSIS

1330 Conference Summary & Closing Remarks

Mr. Ernest Z. Bower, CSIS

1400 End of Conference


21 06 2011

As pundits consider a Puea Thai Party election victory a probability, there has been increased consideration given to the consequences of yet another pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party leading government. The question seems to be: Will they allow it?

Who are “they”? It seems it is the groups PPT sometimes labels “the establishment” or “the elite” or what red shirts call the “amart.” Given its history of political intervention, repression and manipulation, “they” also includes the military. As the boots and guns on the ground serving the elite and protecting the monarchy and its system of privilege and control, the position of those with guns and tanks is critical.

The stakes are high. The decision by Army boss Prayuth Chan-ocha to demand that votes be delivered to the Democrat Party (okay, he didn’t say those words, but everyone know what he meant) and to draw the monarchy into the election campaign (remember when the Election Commission banned this for parties?) suggests desperation. Then the Democrat Party has “gone nuclear,” trying to use any means, fair or foul) to get more votes. Outgoing Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva’s whinging has reached a peak, and he has even been seen talking emotionally on television as he gets ever more upset at the heckling he gets wherever he goes (except in the South, where the Democrat Party machine is strong).

So the question, “Will they allow it” is ever more significant. In a recent article, Reuters has a useful account that considers the position of the military. Will they allow a Puea Thai-led government?

The report states that, following Prayuth’s recent outbursts, Yingluck Shinawatra “should be concerned” that she will face the same military opposition as her elder brother.

PPT reckons this won’t be news to Yingluck and her strategists. After all, the 2006 coup was just the beginning of a massive operation that targeted Thaksin and his family, their supporters and the electorally successful political parties that grew from the Thai Rak Thai Party.

The report observes that “the army has cast aside its neutrality, analysts say, and looks intent on derailing her. How far they will go is unclear.”

PPT wonders where the “neutrality” was. As far as we can tell, from about mid-2005, it has been clear that there was not the slightest pretence of political neutrality. We agree, though, the Army looks intent in trying to derail Yingluck and her party.

The report says that “a coup is one option, though an unlikely one due to the risk of drawing tens of thousands of Thaksin’s red shirt supporters into the streets in a reprise of last year’s bloody clashes with troops. Most analysts and diplomats suggest she may cut a deal with the army to preserve her government and to prevent a new round of street riots.”

Is a coup a possibility? The article quotes “Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at the Siam Intelligence Unit, said the stakes are high for the military, which faces a possible purge if Yingluck becomes premier and remains influenced by Thaksin, who may seek a military reshuffle in revenge for his ouster.” He says that a “A coup is the worst-case scenario but that can’t be ruled out if Thaksin regains power…. The military has learned from the past and knows Thaksin will want his revenge.”

PPT thinks he means that the royalist clique that runs the military is worried that they will face Thaksin’s wrath if Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party is elected. They have good reason to be fearful. Would any reasonable person not expect the politicians on the opposition side not to be miffed after all that the military has done against them? In any reasonable state, the military brass would be put on trial for mutiny, murder and the base act of destroying a legal regime and throwing out the basic law. Any talk about reconciliation has always been nonsense, as Abhisit has demonstrated many times.

Some analysts “expect the generals to intervene discreetly to prevent Puea Thai from forming a government if, as many expect, it wins the most seats in parliament but falls short of an outright majority and must form a coalition to govern. That’s where the army could wield its influence by trying to persuade smaller parties to shun Puea Thai and side with Abhisit’s Democrats.”

PPT isn’t sure that such a move would be discreet in any way. We think it is a mandatory move, even if Puea Thai doesn’t win. The powers-that-be will seek to red card as many as they can. But even this “discreet” strategy “may not work. If Puea Thai wins by a landslide, or wins comfortably, it could govern with just one medium-sized party in a coalition.”

The article considers a coup a “tougher step” and “… difficult. The red shirts are far stronger and more organised than in 2006 when the generals removed Thaksin. If tanks rumbled into Bangkok, thousands would likely flood the city’s streets in protest.” An analysts cited says: “Another coup is an option Prayuth doesn’t want to take because more red shirts than ever before would come to shut down Bangkok…”. The analyst added: “But a coup becomes likely if Prayuth gets word of a planned purge by a Puea Thai government. There might be no other option.”

But this is Thailand, where political grudges are held for decades, and where behind-the-scenes deal-making is a way of doing all kinds of business that papers over the cracks – often huge gorges too. So the Reuters report reports that some believe “Thaksin and the generals are discussing an arrangement under which Puea Thai could govern in return for an assurance the top brass would not be purged.”

In fact, Yingluck has made a statement pretty much in line with this notion. And the report reveals: “Abhisit told Reuters last week he was aware the military had been approached by Puea Thai with a view to a deal.” They cite Jane’s correspondent Anthony Davis, who believes “a deal was almost inevitable if Puea Thai won handsomely.” It seems the hypothetical “deal” means that “Puea Thai would have to scrap its plans for an amnesty to allow Thaksin’s return, appoint a defense minister sensitive to the army leadership and guarantee the party would not get involved in the military’s affairs.”

PPT wonders if such a deal would work? After all, it is not that different from the deal done between Samak Sundaravej and then Army boss General Anupong Paojinda. Would Puea Thai fall into the same trap?

One thing is clear. The power and money handed back to the military over recent years, as the royalist governments rewarded it for its coup, support and repression, means that neutering them politically is a major challenge. The idea of putting the military brass on trial for their crimes may never be on the political agenda.


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