Prem dead IV

31 05 2019

In our first post on Gen Prem Tinsulanonda’s death, we warned that there was likely to be plenty of buffalo manure, piled high by royalists and lazy commentators who recall Prem’s time as unelected premier as somehow better than anything else.

As it has turned out, while there has been some of this bleating, there’s also been some excellent assessments in the international media and in the local press.

That has seen some efforts to roll back the truth and to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. A recent sycophantic effort is by commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak. As far as we can tell from his CV, Thitinan has never actually written much at all about Gen Prem. This would suggest that he’s working on that sow’s ear based on his impressions of a man he admired.

Thitinan seems miffed that some of the commentary on Prem has been negative. He puts this down to considering Prem’s 21st century and forgetting his 20th century work. And, he seems to think that other mistakenly use 21st century lenses to consider the earlier Prem. And/or, the youngsters of today just don’t get what their “elders” did for them back in the grim days of the Cold War military dictatorship.

He admits that “Gen Prem’s legacy is certainly mixed.” However, he wants to resurrect Prem’s 20th century when “[h]e served what he often called the “motherland”, astutely and with distinction when the heyday of Thailand’s military-authoritarian era needed him to thwart communism…”. Look at these interventions as “Gen Prem’s lasting legacies, which marked his illustrious political life and performance at the top…”.

Unfortunately, Thitinan really only begins his 20th century story when Gen Prem becomes army chief in the late 1970s, “when communist expansionism was an existential threat.” There’s stuff about Prem staring down Vietnamese tans across the border in 1979. Where does Thitinan expect the nation’s military commander to have been? At the same time, its was clear to all who were deeply involved  that the Vietnamese weren’t invading Thailand but defeating the Khmer Rouge. What this prancing at the border did was give Prem more ammunition for replacing Gen Kriangsak as prime minister.

When he succeeded in ousting Kriangsak, he relinquished control of Cambodia policy to hardliners:

… Prime Minister Prem … has delegated Cambodian policy primarily to three officials–Foreign Minister Siddhi Savetsila, Secretary-General Prasong Sunsiri of the National Security Council, and Army Deputy Chief of Staff Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. While Siddhi directs efforts on the diplomatic front, Prasong is in charge of Bangkok’s policy toward all Indochinese refugees. Lt. General Chavalit coordinates Chinese and ASEAN military aid to the resistance and is the principal architect of non-Communist resistance strategy.

Thitinan ignores the political turmoil of the early years of the Prem premiership and the opposition to him.

For him, the two big deals of the Prem period are “compromises.” One is the amnesty for “Communist Party of Thailand members and student activists who earlier fled to jungle hideouts and strongholds to return and restart their lives in society.” Chavalit had much to do with that too, but the fact is that there were other things happening within the CPT that saw it in decline and made amnesty good strategy. Prem did recognize this and deserves credit.

The second compromise “was between civilian leaders and military generals.” He says:

As prime minister, Gen Prem presided over three elections and five governments. He maintained control over security- and economy-related cabinet portfolios, especially interior, defence, finance, and foreign affairs, but allowed elected politicians to run line ministries, such as commerce, industry, agriculture, and transport and communications. This compromise led to a so-called “Premocracy”, that was semi-authoritarian and semi-democratic. Similar to the current Thai military regime’s situation, this kind of compromise requires fair and sufficient power-sharing, which may be lacking in the post-election political setup.

This is only part of the story. Prem was under constant pressure from civilians for real electoral democracy. He resisted and that’s why there were five governments. Prem resisted, again and again, and the palace was unwavering in its support of Prem-style authoritarianism. No politician ever challenged Prem for the premiership. They knew their place. Prem spent the rest of his life trying to prevent civilian politicians from ruling. He did his job and he was rewarded. Thailand lost elected governments time and time again.

For a different take, mostly 21st century Prem, the Council on Foreign Relations is good.





Prem dead III

29 05 2019

Sick of the buffalo manure about Gen Prem Tinsulanonda? If so, read today’s opinion in The Nation. In the junta’s Thailand, it is a remarkable piece of journalism. In case heads roll and censors get to work, we reproduce it all:

Prem was no friend of the people
opinion May 29, 2019 01:00

Hailed as the great statesmen of our era, Prem Tinsulanonda exploited unmatched connections to halt democratic progress

General Prem Tinsulanonda will be remembered for many things – but advancing Thai democracy will not be among them.

Soldiers-turned-politicians like General Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan might admire Prem for his rise to the post of prime minister after a lifetime of military service.  He managed to hold the position for eight years without ever running for election. Neither did he need his own political party.

Prem exploited military power to climb the political ladder in the late 1970s, when a golden era of democracy ended with the massacre of students at Thammasat University on October 6, 1976. He was then a member of the coup led by Admiral Sangad Chaloryu that toppled the elected civilian government of the day.

Prem served General Kriangsak Chamanan’s government as deputy interior minister and later defence minister, while also holding his post as Army chief.

Kriangsak’s ideology was moderate compared with that of his predecessor, the ultra-rightist Thanin Kraivichien, but his Cabinet member and long-time close aide Prem differed from both. Prem was more conservative than Kriangsak, showing no faith in democracy whatsoever.

In February 1980, after losing public support over rising oil prices, Kriangsak resigned to, in his own words, save democracy.

Prem, in contrast, chose to punish politicians by dissolving Parliament whenever he faced difficulties in the administration or legislature. Neither did he have any faith in elections as a way of legitimising his premiership.

Instead he secured his rule via strong connections to the Palace, which he used to build his own charisma and influence over the military. Officers seeking career advancement needed Prem’s patronage. Only “louk pa” (Papa’s sons) would be recruited to the inner circle of the military elite. The resulting intrigues and tensions within the ranks led to military uprisings against his regime, but with the blessings of the Palace he was rescued from internal threats.

Military backing also boosted Prem’s bargaining power with political parties in Parliament. Until the Chart Thai Party’s election victory in 1988, no politician dared to challenge Prem for the premiership. The task of forming the government after elections was always left to military commanders. Top brass like General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh were keen to take on the job, mustering political parties to support Prem as government leader.

Those parties unwilling to make deals would be consigned to the opposition benches – though not for their political platforms or ideology, but because Prem did not want them on board.

In stark contrast to elite establishment opinion, Prem’s regime did not address the needs of all citizens and stakeholders. By the late 1980s, as Prem propagandised via a bureaucracy network fanning out from the Interior Ministry, intellectuals, scholars, students and civil society were calling loudly for democracy.

The end of the Cold War, emerging liberalisation and domestic demands for change finally brought Prem’s regime to an end in 1988. The forward-looking Chart Thai Party leader Chatichai Choonhavan showed that Prem’s “military-guided democracy” no longer fitted the new circumstances.

An inside deal to kick Prem upstairs as an adviser to HM King Rama IX was offered, paving the way for Chatichai to take the national helm.

Belying his declaration of, “Enough, you can resume your democracy”, Prem retained his influence over the military and close links to the Palace. He was subsequently blamed for exploiting those links to engineer political setbacks, coups and political division over the past decade, as the establishment elite battled against the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra and democratic movements.

Prem’s legacy will be to inspire military top brass to maintain their strong influence in politics, to the diminishment of democracy in Thailand.





The other Vichai story

31 10 2018

With all the eulogies for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha being wholly laudatory, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan is in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He said: “As opposed to the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… family man…”.

Nusara has been described as a “[f]ormer beauty queen who was runner-up in Thailand’s Miss Universe.”

Fans of Leicester City attacked Roan, variously describing him as despicable and an enemy of the club. He was told by some that he was no longer welcome at the club. These fans lauded Vichai and hated the fact that the BBC editor had, well, told the truth.

The claims by others were uncritical and blur truth. It was Britain’s Prince William who stated:

My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and all the victims of the terrible crash at Leicester City Football Club…. I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes.

Vichai is next to the tall lad in red

There’s no evidence that Prince William’s claims are anything other than a repetition of the spin that has been associated with Vichai and King Power in recent years. The BBC mistress slip is just one aspect of this.

Lauding Vichai as something of a hero in the context of Leicester and Leicester City is understandable. Spin from a royal polo partner are also no surprise.

But the failure of the media to investigate more is disappointing.

After all, Vichai’s business history is of virtually inexplicable, very sudden and huge wealth. Yes, King Power is known, but the company and its founder are secretive. What is known suggests he may have grifted his way to great wealth, not least by polishing the right posteriors. Once he had great wealth, he selectively polished his own posterior by carefully managing his and the company’s limited media profile.

On the mistress claim, it is not at all odd to learn that a Sino-Thai mogul would hire an “assistant” who is a former beauty queen. That she might be a mistress is also pretty much “normal” in Thailand. Most Sino-Thai tycoons have a stable of mistresses.

And, of course, not just tycoons and not just Thailand.

But in Thailand, there’s a normalization of such relations. Politicians and military types are good examples. Gen Sarit Thanarat had a bevy of mistresses. Whispers about other leaders are only sometimes revealed, usually in squabbles over their ill-gotten gains. Examples included Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, Chatichai Choonhavan and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

And, of course, there’s the massive official silence in Thailand about the current king’s “troubled relationships with a succession of wives and mistresses.”

It is about power. For the tycoons, wealth means power and having a mistress is “normalized.” But that link between wealth, power and mistress should not be ignored.





Updated: Regressive politics

5 10 2018

Not that long ago, one of Thailand’s oldest generals briefly got himself back in the spotlight. Former Prime Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, sitting with Jatuporn Promphan of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, the official red shirts, he opposed an election.

He proposed an interim or national government “to solve the country’s problems and the 1997 constitution should be revived with some changes…”. He’s suggested a national government umpteen times.

It seems he was provoked by The Dictator’s plans for future control of politics following a rigged election.

The leader of the 2011 election’s military-backed party Bhum Jai Thai Anutin Charnvirakul observed, “next year’s election is a foregone conclusion…”. We are not sure whether he meant the election itself or the outcome. Probably both.

But at least five people took up Chavalit’s call and decided to petition the kin, asking him to ditch out the junta. Now, this is feudal bizarre, but the reaction from the military regime was predictably unrestrained.

Police arrested the five, dragged them off to a police station, along with their flag and portrait of the king, before presenting them to the military. The military whisked them off to the 11th Military Circle base for “attitude adjustment.”

Running to the king and calling for a national government are equally regressive political acts, but this is where Thailand is located, thanks to the junta.

Update: Khaosod reports that the arrested would-be royal petitioners have been released from military custody. The group “was taken to an army base for questioning before they were freed without charges at 5pm on the same day, military sources told the media.” The arresting officers claimed that the group “violat[ed] the junta’s ban on political gatherings.” It seems the king is not above politics.





Military partying

2 02 2018

Khaosod reports on the announcement of a new political party that many consider may become the vehicle for ensuring The Dictator’s path to “election” as premier well into the future.

It points to the new Citizen Power Party, established by Samphan Lertnuwat, an ageing military minion who says his as yet unregistered party will discuss supporting Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister after elections are held…” whenever that might be. Samphan said he “… think[s] it’s a long way off.”

When asked about his party’s policies Samphan ” espoused values reminiscent of Prayuth’s message of reconciliation and unity.” He added a little populism to the mix saying the party would put the “stress on helping the poor,” explaining that this would be “particularly in the rural areas…”. He claimed to have filched “about 30 former members of parliament” for his party, many of them targeting the northeast.

An eight-time MP, who’s been with several parties, he’s been an MP-for-hire. In 1991, he was with the Samakki Tham Party that was a military surrogate and the vehicle for “then-military dictator Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon [who became] … prime minister for a short period before a bloody revolt in May 1992 that ended the strongman’s political career. Under Suchinda’s government, Samphan was a deputy commerce minister.”

He was also close to old military political meddler General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and many of the new party’s “members” seem to be linked to the New Aspiration Party, which was the vehicle for Chavalit briefly becoming an ignoble premier for a year in 1996-97.





Updated: The yellow threat

4 09 2017

About a month ago we suggested watching the People’s Alliance for Democracy. The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions clearing of 2008 prime minister Somchai Wongsawat and three others over their role in an attempt at clearing of PAD protesters had the (former) members of PAD agitated.

The Bangkok Post reports that the former “co-leader and spokesman of … PAD … Parnthep Pourpongpan, is warning of the possible return of yellow shirts if justice [sic.] is not served in a case concerning the 2008 deadly dispersal of the group’s demonstrators.”

This is obviously a political threat. It is an attempt to influence the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), seeking to force it to “appeal against the ruling…”. The NACC has refused and PAD says that’s a “political” decision.

PAD’s threat includes “lawsuits to be filed against the NACC members concern abuse of authority…”.

Panthep claims that there may have been “collusion between government figures and the NACC … to shield some people from legal action…”. He regards this “as organised crime.” He warns that PAD will sort this out. Another threat.

If that is the case, he says, then PAD may have to deal with it. Another threat.

“In the end, if no justice is served [he means PAD gets what it wants], no one can tell whether the PAD will return or not (to an active protest role)…”.

Just to turn the knife a bit more, Panthep went after The Dictator. “He said the government has not yet overcome the influence of the Thaksin system as it has failed to win over the hearts and minds of the people.”

Panthep reckons that the “regime’s policies were rolled out to mainly help capitalists or big entrepreneurs rather than the general public, which widens social disparity…”. There’s something in that. And it’s another threat.

The PAD man warns that the “military regime could seek a compromise with Thaksin’s system as a potential partner in holding political power.” That would surely bring the PADistas back. So it’s another threat.

Update: We should have mentioned that the NACC had 15 days to appeal. It has decided to appeal on just one of the four PAD crackdown cases. The Nation reports that the NACC “agreed with the court’s acquittal of the first three defendants…”. That’s Somchai, his deputy Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and then-police chief Pol General Patcharawat Wongsuwan. The NACC is appealing the case of former metropolitan police chief Pol Lt-General Suchart Muankaew. That is not enough for PAD.





Updated: PAD excited and angry

2 08 2017

Yellow shirt social media has erupted, complaining bitterly about the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions has acquitted Somchai Wongsawat, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and two others for their role in seeking to move protesters seeking to block parliament.

The details are still vague and incomplete, but it should be recalled that the “four men were charged with abuse of authority in 2015 by the National Anti-Corruption Commission.”The charges related to the dispersal of People’s Alliance for Democracy protesters in 2008, with the junta pushing the charges forward.

It was the same NACC that claimed that Abhisit Vejjajiva, Suthep Thaugsuban and General Anupong Paojinda had no case to answer for their role in the events leading to the deaths of more than 100 red shirt protesters and others in 2010.

The court ruled that the “authorities had no intention of causing injuries or loss of life when they launched the operation to clear away the protesters.”

Given that Abhisit and his lot got off so easily, the fact that the NACC took Somchai and others to court raised a serious question of double standards. With Yingluck Shinawatra’s case also coming to a conclusion, the courts and junta faced a dilemma that could have unleashed a political backlash. They appear to have both backed off and followed the law. That’s an innovation.

The backlash now seems to be coming from the yellow shirts.

Update: Angry yellow shirt “leaders have called on the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to appeal yesterday’s acquittal of four defendants in a case stemming from the fatal 2008 crackdown.” Suriyasai Katasila, a former PAD leader “disputed arguments that the dispersal of the protest had been conducted in line with international practices, that the demonstration was not peaceful or unarmed, and that the defendants had no intention of causing casualties.”