Updated: Changing chairs

2 09 2018

Amid rumors that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has had some potential military challengers transferred out of Bangkok bases, the promotions list has little in it that is a surprise.

The new commanders were as predicted. Gen Apirat Kongsompong, a close ally of The Dictator and having “graduated” from the king’s “training,” is the new army chief. He remains “secretary to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and commander of its peace-keeping forces.”

The Defense Ministry’s deputy permanent secretary, Gen Nat Intaracharoen, was promoted to permanent secretary and Gen Pornpipat Benyasri moved up a notch to become commander at Armed Forces Headquarters. Royal Thai Navy deputy commander Adm Luechai Rudditalso moves up a level to be commander and at the Royal Thai Air Force, assistant commander ACM Chaiyapruk Ditsayasarin became commander.

They all take over their positions on 1 October and, if all goes to plan, Gen Apirat will be in place until 2020.

The Bangkok Post’s composite picture, clipped below, shows all of them with the king’s required haircut.

Update: The Bangkok Post’s story has been expanded, stressing loyalty as the key to promotions. We can’t recall when this wasn’t the case, but loyalty to who is usually the question. Gen Prem Tinsulanonda spent a lot of effort on getting his “loyalists” in place from at least the 1980s. It was Thaksin Shinawatra who unsettled that. Loyalty today seems to be to Prayuth, the junta and the king. Interestingly, the Post’s new story has a photo of Apirat prior to his “palace training” and his loyalist haircut.

 





The junta’s lock

20 07 2018

The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.

Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.

That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.

It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.

Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.

This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.

Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.

If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.





Found, missing, who knows?

5 06 2018

Found: A couple of weeks ago we posted that social media was buzzing about the “disappearance” of Gen Apirat Kongsompong. We cited Andrew MacGregor Marshall suggests saying that he’d been “arrested” and is at the king’s jail. Soon after, he reappeared, shaven head and all, but back at work.

Now social media rumors are that despite his period of “re-education” by the king, Gen Apirat has come through it and his chances of appointment of new Army boss are undiminished, perhaps even enhanced by his capacity to endure strict royal discipline.

Missing: In a related post, Marshall refers to a missing Army officer. Marshall states that เฉลิมศักดิ์ เรือนมงคล (Chaloemsak Ruenmongkon), had been on the run in several Southeast Asian nations before perhaps being apprehended in Malaysia and sent to Thailand.

He is thought to have been involved with an anti-junta and anti-monarchy “พิซซ่าชาวใน,” a now-closed Facebook page.

He’s gone missing and the fear is he’s “detained by the military or held at King Vajiralongkorn’s notorious punishment camp and prison at Thaweewattana Palace.”

There’s no a dreaded silence.

Who knows?: More than a week ago the police reported breaking a red shirt plot and capturing weapons. The news since then, as expected, is zilch. Perhaps the plot is by the police, against red shirts?





Further updated: Social media stories to watch

19 05 2018

Social media has come alive with two stories today. The first concerns groups of people assembling at the Rajaprasong intersection to remember the deaths and injuries that took place eight years ago. Khaosod has an early report, but those following Facebook activists will see photos of people remembering the dead. Interestingly, there’s also an impression that those remembrances are also about solidarity.

The second story is much more sketchy and written carefully. Essentially, some people are asking: Where is Gen Apirat Kongsompong? Said to be next in line to be Army commander, the impression is that he has gone missing. Ever alert, Andrew MacGregor Marshall suggests that he’s been “arrested” and is at the king’s jail.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post reports:

Yesterday, a number of red-shirts representing the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) converged outside Gaysorn Village, formerly known as Gaysorn Plaza, to remember the bloody clashes between security forces and red-shirt protesters on May 19, 2010.

Among the noted participants in the event was Phayao Akhad, whose daughter, Kamolket Akhad, a volunteer nurse, was shot dead at Wat Pathum Wanaram during the 2010 dispersal of the protesters at the temple.

We doubt the Post will report on the second social media story….

Update 2: Marshall now states that Gen Apirat has reappeared in public.





The junta’s destruction of electoral politics

12 02 2018

The clamor for an “election” under the junta’s rules might be good politics but it is also a recipe for a post-election politics that is likely to be unstable. This is because the junta’s constitution and all of the related laws it has put in place are deeply flawed. The junta’s rules, put together by advocates of Thai-style democracy, is meant to limit popular sovereignty. As every anti-democrat and military leader knows, the people can’t be trusted.

An example of such flaws is seen in how political parties – both extant and in formation – are reacting to the junta’s laws.

Several groups have shown interest in setting up new political parties. In fact, more than a hundred have expressed “interest.” The reason for this has to do with the junta winding back the political clock to a period where strong governments were not the likely outcome of an election. Rather, coalitions of multiple parties were the rule and these government coalition parties fought over cabinet seats and the spoils of these positions to be doled out to keep the party going and MPs on side. Funds were also needed for vote-buying and MP-buying.

Meanwhile, an “outsider” premier would do what he wanted, relatively insulated from the parties and their squabbling. When the outsider PM was a military man, there were pro- and anti-military parties, but what mattered most was where the military leadership and palace stood.

When the Election Commission (EC) held meeting last Friday to provide guidelines for potential party founders, we gained an insight into the future of political parties as 291 people from 114 groups registered for the meeting. We don’t expect all of these groups to form a party that contests junta “elections,” but the nature of party entrepreneurs is revealed. Some of these were existing parties that preferred to set up new ones as this was easier than tracking down their “existing members.”

Some parties are angling to be part of the junta’s group of parties. One was reported to be Ampapan Thanate-dejsunthorn, a former mistress of 1991 coup leader and friend to dark influences the unusually wealthy Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong who died some years ago. Known as Big George, his son is Gen Apirat Kongsompong, Assistant Commander in Chief of the Army, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Government Lottery Office, director at Bangchak Petroleum and member of the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly. He shot to fame and up the military hierarchy after he took pot shots at red shirts back in 2010.

Ampapan said she would set up the Pheu Chart Thai party, promoting junta-style “reconciliation,” supporting delayed elections and an outsider premier.

Vichit Dittaprasop, leader of National Progressive Democracy Party, said that setting up a new party was “easy,” adding “[a]ll that is required is a 1-million-baht seed fund and 500 founding members.” Presumably the military could assist with that. He said his party would look to winning party-list seats.

Fragmentation was also seen in existing parties; this is something the junta has worked on. “Samphan Lertnuwat, a former Pheu Thai party MP, said he was forming a new party called People’s Power Party [Phalang Phonlamuang] with 10 former MPs.” He also bid for pro-military alliance saying “his new party had no objection to an outsider prime minister so long as he was a good man.”

“Good” men are almost all anti-democrats.





Updated: Domination plans

6 01 2018

Seldom has PPT been able to fully agree with analysis in the mainstream media. Generally we rummage about in it and post bits and pieces drawn from it to highlight things about the monarchy, lese majeste and political repression. Nor have we always been fans of the Bangkok Post’s military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam.

However, a recent piece by Wassana in the Bangkok Post is one we can recommend. “Regime lays plans for post-poll control” says much that PPT has been posting about for several years, and we are pleased that others are recognizing the junta’s plans and writing about them in Thailand. Wassana writes about how the junta “has been busy ensuring its success at the ballot box” and establishing its post-“election” regime. And she’s still unsure when the junta will be prepared and ready to “win” its “election.”

Being prepared translates as being sure no pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party has any chance of looking electorally powerful. The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to believe that he is the only one who can prevent such a “catastrophe” for the military, the royalist elite and the anti-democrats. He may also need a military party. As Wassana comments: “Gen Prayut, Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan, the watchman] and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda are united in wanting to prevent Pheu Thai from winning sufficient seats to form a government.”

As we have been pointing out, the polls are likely to be a stitch-up when they are permitted. Wassana explains some of the mechanisms:

As interior minister, Gen Anupong has assumed authority over the past few years for transferring provincial governors and chiefs of district offices, while Gen Prawit, who is believed to have good relations with several political parties, will likely be the one who convinces politicians to defect to the military party.

The armed forces and other security agencies will also be deployed to achieve this goal.

The burden of helping a military party become a key party in the formation of the next government will, however, fall on the armed forces. They are no longer politically neutral these days [they never have been], … with their leaders serving as members of the NCPO [junta].

Army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad serves as the secretary-general of the NCPO and head of the NCPO’s peace and order command that controls the entire military and police.

Assistant army commander Apirat Kongsompong, a close aide of Gen Prayut who serves also as a deputy chief of the NCPO’s command, meanwhile, is expected to emerge as the new army chief in the military reshuffle expected between September and October.

Gen Apirat will take up a key role in controlling the armed forces including during the election.

General Anupong has also been ensuring that local electoral authorities and “independent” agencies are in the junta’s pockets. And, PPT does not rule out military ballot box stuffing and corrupt counting to get the required electoral outcome.

Worryingly, Wassana reveals how the military and its ISOC will be used in provincial areas:

The armed forces will play a bigger role in attempts to bar Pheu Thai from winning the race. Military officials will act more or less as canvassers for the military party and assess the popularity and the overall situation of parties in each constituency.

With his special powers provided under the charter’s Section 44, Gen Prayut may deal by this means with canvassers from other parties in the name of suppressing mafia-style thugs and illegal weapons — ever-present threats during elections.

Of course, plans can be upset. We’d love to see a broad-based opposition to the military’s operations and planning. However, this particular regime has been far more repressive and nasty than any of its recent predecessors have been (in, say, 1991-2 and 2006-7). It has also shown itself to be prepared to murder and maim to maintain its preferred regime (as in 2009 and 2010). And, it has worked assiduously to dismantle opposition organizing. All of this suggests that a broad-based opposition to continuing military fascism is unlikely without some kind of special spark.

Update: On this topic we also recommend “Brave the third wave.”





Conspiratorial musings

25 06 2017

Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times has a view that everything that happens in Thailand is a conspiracy. When he reports on Thailand’s politics, it is almost never from an on-the-record source. But he always cobbles together an interesting story of conspiratorial maneuvers.

We don’t reject conspiracies as an explanation. Indeed, our limited experience of Thailand’s movers and shakers is that they are always planning to foil the next conspiracy even when they don’t know what it is or who is behind it. So conspiracies are often built around and constructed from factual events that are put together into a story that is embellished and may or may not be accurate.

In his most recent outing at Asia Times, Crispin mixes a frothy conspiratorial cocktail, mixing knowns with unknowns and unknowns with speculation and guessing. This is apparently in the tradition of Bush era Secretary for Middle East invasion, Donald Rumsfeld: “there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

He begins with the bomb that “ripped through a Bangkok military hospital in late May…”, and like many, he seems to not be all that convinced by the claims that the military got their bomber. What the bombing does is provide the “potential for Thailand’s ruling military junta to leverage the blast to further delay elections scheduled for next year for reasons of national security.”

Apart from the obvious – elections are not always predictable unless totally controlled, they love uncontrolled power and the junta hates elections anyway – why would they want further delay?

The capture last week of a 62-year-old ex-civil servant suspect with alleged links to coup-ousted ex-premiers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra’s “Red Shirt” pressure group underscored the notion that political instability and disenchantment are on the rise three years after the military suspended democracy and seized power in a May 2014 coup. Try this:

Polling conducted by the Internal Security and Operations Command (ISOC), a military unit under the authority of the Prime Minister’s Office, has shown repeatedly since the coup, as well as in recent months, that Peua Thai would win any free and fair vote, according to a source familiar with the confidential surveys.

To be honest, we are skeptical of this, not least because the “election” will not be free or fair and the junta has been working for more than three years to prevent such a result. But let’s say it is true. Crispin’s claim is that “the premier appears to be testing the political waters for yet another delay.” That’s certainly true.

That could come in any number of forms, including the death of the queen. Crispin says there are “new worries about the state of 84-year-old Queen Sirikit’s health…”. He adds:

Royal family members, including Vajiralongkorn, recently came together when Queen Sirikit was urgently moved from Siriraj to another medical facility due to a health scare. Many anticipate Prayuth’s junta, led by troops who rose to prominence on their loyalty to Sirikit, would announce and impose another extended period of national mourning that puts politics in abeyance upon her eventual death.

He then talks of factions in the military. Of course, there are many and there always have been, but concentrating on them too closely is like reading tea leaves in a tea house that’s burning down. Prayuth’s in place as long as he can manage the troops and give them toys and positions that provide pay-offs.

But there are always younger fascists keen to get ahead, like the detestable First Region army commander General Apirat Kongsompong, a King’s Guard soldier now tipped as a likely future army commander. We don’t know the king’s preferences yet, and they are likely to be significant for we know he will want a say and that he must have remora-like officers around him.

The referendum also allowed for an unelected premier, which the military-appointed Senate’s presumed cohesive bloc will likely have strong sway over after the next poll. Until recently, analysts presumed Prayuth was the mostly likely candidate to become appointed premier over an elected “unity” government the military would check and control from above. Crispin says he has “frequent one-on-one audiences with [Generals] Prayuth and Chalermchai [Sitthisart].”

Presumably that when’s he’s actually in Thailand and not cycling around parts of Erding and being shot in the backside with plastic bullets.

Vajiralongkorn also seems to be a fan, for the moment, of the General Apirat, not least because the latter will do anything for publicity and promotion. However, that publicity may not always keep the king jolly.

Then the Kremlin watchers-cum-military-watchers in Thailand will be waiting to read October’s military reshuffle list and will see all kinds of messages there. Who won, who lost and that kind of cake decoration. But decorated cakes can have a political impact, not least when a general feels done down.

Is there rising factionalism in the armed forces? We don’t think so as the military is happy enough in harness at present. But things change. The junta is getting criticized far more widely now, and if that continues, Prayuth may be turfed out. But as Crispin concludes:

While Prayuth’s once near-absolute grip has certainly started to slip with new challenges from within the military and a more assertive monarchy, it’s not clear the solider-cum-premier is ready to yield power any time soon to the same politicians and anti-junta activists he believes caused the various problems his military government has aimed and claimed to solve.

We think that’s not idle speculation.