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.





Updated: 6 October 1976

6 10 2018

PPT waited a few hours before posting our tribute and remembrance to the victims of royalist-rightist violence  in 1976. We waited because we wanted to link to any stories we saw in the English media. So far, we have seen one at the Bangkok Post, about an event at Thammasat University. We were also reminded of the website launched a couple of years ago from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, and established and maintained as an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

We draw on our post from last year as a way of recalling those terrible events and the loss of so many lives.

On this day in 1976, royalists and rightists were mobilized with and by the police and military in a massacre of students and others they had decided were threats to the monarchy. With claims of lese majeste and communists at work, these “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family engaged in an orgy of violence, killing, injuring and arresting thousands. Central to this royalist rage was the then crown prince, now king, Vajiralongkorn.

For a radio program on the events, listen to the BBC’s Witness story on the October 1976 events in Thailand, with  archival audio footage of reporting from the time and Puey Ungpakorn, and a present-day interview with Thongchai Winichakul. Read Puey on the terrible events by following the links here.

The king and the royal family fully supported the massacre at Thammasat University.

In remembering this massacre in the name of the monarchy, we are reminded that the current military dictatorship bears many of the characteristics of the dictatorship that resulted from the murderous events of 6 October in 1976.

Thanin Kraivixien was a dedicated fascist judge who served the king. His government was established to turn back the political clock and established a 12 year plan to do this. Today, four years of military dictatorship is meant to be followed by 20 years of rewinding under military, royalist and rightist tutelage.

Mercifully, Thanin’s extreme authoritarianism only lasted a year but military-backed rule continued until 1988, first with General Kriangsak Chomanan as premier. He was replaced by the more reliable royalist posterior polisher, General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even after 1988, when Gen Prem was seen off, he retained considerable political influence as he moved into the Privy Council and he has repeatedly supported military coups. His support for the current dictatorship has been given several times.

The current military regime remains exceptionally prickly about this event of 1976. And justifiably so in that military fingerprints are all over one of Thailand’s worst massacres of civilians. So it is that last year Khaosod reported that a film about the event was prevented from being screened on the anniversary. By the Time It Gets Dark or ดาวคะนอง is a 2016 film directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong.

The only good military regime is the one that has been defeated. Until Thailand’s military dictators and military dictators are defeated, the country remains in a recurring pattern of political crisis and darkness.

Update: We should have mentioned the excellent account of the 6 October massacre and associated events in a story at the Los Angeles Review of Books by Suchada Chakpisuth and translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.





Meechai as military lackey

12 09 2018

Meechai Ruchupan has loyally served several military and military-backed regimes.

Meechai has faithfully served royalist and military regimes, being a in various legal and political positions to prime ministers Sanya Dharmasakti, Kukrit Pramoj, Seni Pramoj, Thanin Kraivichien, General Kriangsak Chamanan, General Prem Tinsulanonda and Anand Panyarachun. His main task in all of these positions has been to embed Thai-style (non) democracy. rather than an electoral democracy where the people are sovereign.

He also worked for Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan, but when Chatichai was ousted in a miltiary coup led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC) in 1991, Meechai was hoisted by his military allies into the acting premier’s position before Anand was given the top job by the military, probably on royal advice.

Later, the military had Meechai appointed the leader of a charter-drafting committee, leading to the 1991 Constitution, which eventually led to the May 1992 massacre. In drafting that constitution, Meechai simply plagiarized bits of a charter that had been used earlier by a military regime. The major “achievement of that constitution was in allowing an “outsider” prime minister. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s what he has recycled into the 2017 constitution.

Like many of the “good” people, he is arrogant, practices nepotism, lies for his bosses and political allies, slithers before the monarchy, he’s a “constitutional expert” who practices and supports double standards and the retrospective application of laws. You get the picture.

Thai PBS now reports that, against all evidence, Meechai has claimed to not be a military lackey. As the report begins:

Every coup-maker of the past two decades needed his service. Seizing power doesn’t end with just toppling the incumbent governments. Coup announcements and executive orders need to be issued. And more importantly, interim constitutions need to be drafted.

And his track records have proven that nobody could have done a better job with all these necessary paperworks than Meechai Ruchuphan.

It is well more than two decades, but let’s go on.

Maybe he’s been to a fortune teller who predicts that Meechai will burn in the fires of hell for an eternity or perhaps he’s writing a self-congratulatory book. But whatever the reason, Meechai improbably claims that “he was inadvertently dragged [sic.] into a few coups despite the fact that he hardly knew any of the generals involved.”

He reckons that the multiple coup leaders just needed his legal expertise. In other words, he claims he’s just a tool for the men who repeatedly act illegally in overthrowing legal governments and smashing constitutions.

A tool he might be, but a willing and blunt tool. Willingly plagiarizing and willingly taking positions and pay from dull dictators.

But none of that means, at least in Meechai’s fairy tale, “that he would follow every marching order from the military.”

That he’s piling up buffalo manure is illustrated in his ridiculous claims about the 2006 coup.

He says the first he was ever at the army headquarters was during the 2006, which he knew nothing of. Really? Seriously? More unbelievable is his statement that he “didn’t even know at the time who was leading the coup. There were three of them there and I knew only afterward … [who] they were…”.

He is imitating the Deputy Dictator making stupid and unbelievable stuff in the belief that the public are gullible morons. That Meechai thinks anyone would believe that he, a military servant for decades, didn’t know three of the most powerful generals is laughable.

Then he lies about the 2014 coup: “His service was enlisted once again by the people he didn’t know.” Yes, that’s right, didn’t know anyone. He lies:  “I didn’t know Gen Prayut and didn’t even know what he looked like…”.

We assume that when he was President of the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly after the 2006 coup he kept his eyes closed the whole time so that he didn’t see NLA member Gen Prayuth.

He goes on and on with this stream of fermenting lies to claim “that even under military dictatorship … he was by no means an unquestioning subordinate of those in power.”

Meechai is unscrupulous and a military lackey. He doesn’t feel like a lackey because his ideas on anti-democracy fit the generals ever so perfectly.

The arrogance of the man is as stunning at Gen Prawit’s.





2014 military coup: assessing and forgetting

21 05 2018

There’s currently a plethora of stories and op-eds that assess the results of the 2014 military coup.

Despite limited resources, Khaosod is usually a news outlet that is better than others at reporting the events of the day and in trying to be critical of military rule. However, one of its assessment stories is rather too forgetful.

Teeranai Charuvastra is the author and begins with the sad statistic that The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been directing the state since he seized it 1,641 days on Tuesday. In fact, he effectively seized power a couple of days earlier and the official coup announcement then followed.

That long four years is, Teeranai observes, “longer than any other coup leader since the Cold War.”

We are not exactly sure when the Cold War ended. Perhaps its late 1991 when the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its all those republics. Perhaps it is the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier. It matters only because if it is December 1991, then there’s only been two military coups in Thailand in that period, both involving roughly the same military crew as is in power now. If it is 1989, then add one more coup.

Two or three coups in Thailand’s long history of military seizures of the state doesn’t necessarily amount to establishing a pattern, although Teeranai’s thinks it does. The claim is that:

Every ‘successful’ military takeover of the last four decades has followed the same script: The generals who led the putsch quickly install a civilian prime minister, ostensibly to give the appearance of democratic rule, before retreating into the shadows. Typically, general elections have been organized within a year.

For one thing, that time period takes us back to about 1978, when Gen Kriangsak Chomanan was in the premier’s seat, having seized power in late 1977 from the ultra-royalist/ultra-rightist regime of civilian and palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien.

But back to Gen Prayuth, who is claimed to have gone off-script. Military junkie/journalist Wassana Nanuam is quoted in support of this claim: “He tore to pieces the rules of the coup.”

Back to the dates. Is there a script. In our view there is, but it isn’t the version proclaimed by Wasana. Rather, the script for the military is in seizing and holding power. When Gen Sarit Thanarat seized power in 1957, he put a civilian in place but in 1958 took power himself. He and his successors held power until 1973. When the military again seized power in 1976, it reluctantly accepted the king’s demand for Thanin to head a government. He failed and Kriangsak seized power in late 1977. Kriangsak held the premiership until 1980, when the military leadership convinced him to handover to palace favorite Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who stayed until 1988.

Now there’s a pattern. We think its the pattern that Prayuth’s dictatorial junta has had in mind since they decided that the 2006 coup had failed to adequately expunge Thaksin Shinawatra’s appeal and corral the rise of electoral politics.

So Wassana’s triumphalism about The Dictator “breaking a mold” is simply wrong. The military regime is, like its predecessors in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, about embedding the military and throttling electoral politics.

Wassana’s other claim is that Prayuth’s coup and plan to hold power was risky. We think that’s wrong too.

In fact, after 2006 was declared a failure, Prayuth and his former bosses, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda, had worked with various rightist and royalist agents to undermine the likely opponents of another military political victory: red shirts and politicians of the elected variety.

ISOC was an important part of that as it systematically destroyed red shirt operations and networks.

In addition, the courts and “independent” agencies had all been co-opted by the military and its royalist and anti-democrat allies.

There was never any chance that Prayuth would hand over to an appointee.

Teeranai’s piece also asks; “So how did Prayuth’s National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, manage to stay this long?”

The response is: “The reasons are many, … [that] range from the junta’s use of brute force to Prayuth’s personal influence.” But a “common thread has to do with what the junta is not. The regime’s success, according to most people interviewed, lies in convincing people it is a better alternative to the color-coded feuds and churning upheaval that have plagued the nation.”

We think this is only true for some people and certainly not all. And the people who were convinced are the anti-democrats. Those interviewed are mostly yellow shirts who define “the people” as people like them.

When Suriyasai Katasila says that “The people felt there was only instability… So people accept the NCPO’s [junta] intervention, even though it cost them certain rights,” he speaks for some of Bangkok’s middle class and the anti-democrats.

Other anti-democrats are cited: “people don’t see the point of calling for elections, because they think things will just be the same after the election. People are sick and tired.” Again, these are words for the anti-democrats and by the anti-democrats.

If elections were rejected, one would expect low turnouts for them. If we look just at 2011 and 2007, we see voter turnout in excess of 80%. The anti-democrats propagandize against elections and speak of “the people” but represent a minority.

We’ve said enough. The aims of the current military junta are clear. And the anti-democrats are self-serving and frightened that the people may be empowered by the ballot box. That’s why the junta is rigging any future vote.





Waking up to military dictatorship

10 11 2017

Thailand has been a military dictatorship since May 2014. If The Dictator has his way, the military and the current junta will be in power, directly or through proxies and clones, for another 16 years.

It needs to be recalled that this has happened before. Following the massacre of students at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976, promoted and conducted by military and monarchists, a military junta agreed to appoint palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien as prime minister. That rightist premier, selected and promoted by the king, declared that “reform” would require 12 years.

Thanin wasn’t around for long, being thrown out by military boss General Kriangsak Chomanan, who himself was pushed aside by another general and palace favorite, Prem Tinsulanonda. He remained unelected premier until 1988. That’s 12 years.

So we should believe that the current arrogant leaders and their allies think 20 years is possible.

It seems that there is a gradual awakening to these plans, even though they have, in our view, been obvious for years.

For example, a Bangkok Post editorial gets testy with The Dictator:

Praising oneself while discrediting others is a classic campaign tactic employed by most politicians ahead of general elections. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seemed to be doing just that, behaving like a career politician, when he posed six much-criticised questions to the Thai public on Wednesday.

PPT has noted The Dictator’s campaigning throughout 2017.

The Post recognizes that The Dictator’s six “questions are also seen as an attempt to test the waters before deciding or revealing whether he will enter politics.”

In fact, he’s already entered politics, and well before the 2014 military coup. We well recall that he campaigned against Yingluck Shinawatra and the Peua Thai Party during the 2011 election. He began contemplating a coup against her elected government from even before that election victory.

The Post also recognizes that the junta “has set new rules on politics and has kept a firm grip on all state power…”.And it will do so for years after any “election” conducted under the junta’s rules, set by the illegitimate 2017 constitution. As the Post states:

In fact, the regime’s desire to cling on to the power it seized from the last elected government is demonstrated by certain rules specified in the constitution it sponsored.

The Post editorial continues: “Whatever plan he may be secretly hatching, it is illegitimate as long as he continues to be the rule-maker.”

This is correct, but the power-hungry generals aren’t about to do that. They have repeatedly stated that the time is not right, citing “fears” of political chaos.

The Post further observes:

The prospect of Gen Prayut as premier running the administrative branch for another four-year term while having the Senate, as a supposed checks-and-balance mechanism, on his side, is not a good thing for a democratic country.

But that’s exactly what Prem did. And, we think, that’s been the plan from the beginning.





Updated: 6 October and dictatorship

6 10 2017

A few days ago PPT post about the new website has been launched from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, to establish and maintain an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

On this day in 1976, royalists and rightists were mobilized with and by the police and military in a massacre of students and others they had decided were threats to the monarchy. With claims of lese majeste and communists at work, these “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family engaged in an orgy of violence, killing, injuring and arresting thousands.

For a radio program on the events, listen to the BBC’s Witness story on the October 1976 events in Thailand, with  archival audio footage of reporting from the time and Ajarn Puey Ungpakorn, and a present-day interview with Ajarn Thongchai Winichakul. Read Puey on the terrible events by following the links here.

The king and the royal family fully supported the massacre at Thammasat University.

In remembering this massacre in the name of the monarchy, we are reminded that the current military dictatorship bears many of the characteristics of the dictatorship that resulted from the murderous events of 6 October in 1976.

Thanin Kraivixien was a dedicated fascist judge who served the king. His government was established to turn back the political clock and established a 12 year plan to do this. Today, three years of military dictatorship is meant to be followed by 20 years of rewinding under military, royalist and rightist tutelage.

Mercifully, Thanin’s extreme authoritarianism only lasted a year but military-backed rule continued until 1988, first with General Kriangsak Chomanan as premier. He was replaced by the more reliable royalist posterior polisher, General Prem Tinsulanonda. After 1988, Prem retained considerable political influence and has repeatedly supported military coups. His support for the current dictatorship has been stated several times.

Update: The military remains exceptionally prickly about this event of 41 years ago. And justifiably so in that military fingerprints are all over one of Thailand’s worst massacres of civilians. So it is that Khaosod reports that a film about the event was prevented from being screened on the anniversary. By the Time It Gets Dark or ดาวคะนอง is a 2016 film directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong. It has has some very good reviews.

But the military censors weren’t interested in art. According to Khaosod, theatre owner Thida Plitpholkarnpim announced two hours before it was to show that the thugs had said no. She added: “Don’t ask for the reason…. They misunderstood the story of the film. They couldn’t even remember the name of [tonight’s] activity.”