It could hardly be otherwise: a royalist general is now supreme commander of the armed forces. At the Bangkok Post, General Thanasak Patimaprakorn is lauded as “a soldier worthy of working of his rank as supreme commander.” What are his qualifications?
The Post praises “Thanasak’s career accomplishments are second to none.” Military leaders have basic responsibilities as leaders that usually include the accomplishment of the mission and the welfare of soldiers.
Thanasak’s leadership appears measured, by the Post at least, by factors related to the monarchy. He is said to have been:
an outstanding royal guard for Her Majesty. In fact, he started out serving as a close guard to the Queen in his early days in military uniform. He has often been seen accompanying the Queen and extending an arm for her to lean on during her visits to villages.
PPT cannot imagine any other country where a military leader would be praised on such criteria.
Next, Thanasak is praised because he:
received the full backing of other top brass including Gen Prayuth and his predecessor, Songkitti Jaggabatara, during a search for a new supreme commander. And nobody opposed the choice to make him supreme commander in the military reshuffle in October last year.
In any place other than royalist Thailand, this kind of praise would amount to cronyism. And that is what it is: “Gen Songkitti, Gen Thanasak and Gen Prayuth are classmates from Class 12 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.”
It seems he has done a bit of normal military command and bureaucratic work:
His past posts include a stint in border protection affairs, including on the frontier between Thailand and Cambodia. When he was a military chief of staff, Gen Thanasak drafted a defence scheme for the border and designed several plans for military drills.
Most significant in this is that he served in “the 1st Division, the King’s Guard. After that he received a promotion to become commander of an attack battalion of the army’s special warfare unit.” In the latter he is said to have “earned a reputation as an aggressive and efficient fighter.” At the same time, this unit has been highly politicized and said to be involved in several highly irregular and politicized actions.
Most recently it seems that the general has worked to oppose the ICJ ordered pullout of both Thai and Cambodian troops from a provisional demilitarized zone and to allow Indonesian observers in the area. The Post says:
Gen Thanasak has worked closely with the secretary-general of the General Border Committee to ensure Thailand is not at a disadvantage in negotiations with Cambodia.
The general added: “We will lose territory if Thai soldiers are not allowed to enter an area belonging to Thailand…”. Clearly he is opposing the international court’s ruling.
Meanwhile, at The Nation, Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “insisted it was the military’s duty to protect the monarchy and that it was not complacent in assuming the responsibility.” Indeed, as seen above, “protecting the monarchy” seems to be the Army’s paramount task.
Prayuth then went further, invoking a quite nasty call for “the public to help the military defend the monarchy against efforts to undermine the institution. He suggested social boycott against the offenders of lese majeste law.” A social boycott is likely to translate into something quite sinister. “Social boycott” is adding to Prayuth’s ongoing war on lese majeste targeting political opponents.
As he notes, the law is not insufficient:
You can’t employ the law alone. The authorities involved are trying to use both legal and political means in dealing with this issue. It’s not that we are complacent or that we are not firm about protecting the monarchy….
Is this an admission that the use of the law is bringing the monarchy down? The royalist general adds: “Most people in this country are aware what is going on.” Really? We wish he would tell us. Prayuth continued, saying that the “point is that we have to help protect His Majesty the King and the monarchy…”.
Well, yes, that much is clear, but it isn’t clear why Prayuth feels so agitated at present. Is it that some want a change to the lese majeste law? If that’s the case, then it may be evidence that Prayuth may be coming to understand that the law is bringing the monarchy down. Is the social boycott an acknowledgement of the failure of the law? Or is it an upping of the war on political opponents?
We can’t wait to see what happens when Nitirat launches its new campaign.
Update: The Nation has updated it story on Prayuth’s comments, expanding on what he said. One addition is that Prayuth is now quoted as stating that:
The military has the direct responsibility … but you should not let the military do it alone. Everybody must come out to help, as far as the country’s rules allow.
The longer story (which is still poorly edited and includes a sub-editor’s note) also confirms that Prayuth’s call is related to the questioning of lese majeste and his view that the law is insufficient or flawed. He seems to admit the need for reform when he states: “His Majesty the King in fact did not want offenders of the lese-majeste law to be punished.” Frankly, we have seen no evidence that this is the case, but the statement must carry some weight in the ongoing debate on lese majeste.
At the same time, Prayuth refers to those who “insult” the monarchy as “bad people.” He added: called on the mass media to denounce “those bad people” who are a threat to the country…. If you denounce bad people, good people will get the moral support. If you allow good people to be harmed more and more and fail to condemn bad people, our country will not survive…”. In the report he is apparently referring to the south in the latter comment, but it seems to apply more broadly and links with his “bad people” comment.
We are now more even more convinced that the lese majeste law is likely to be reformed.