What has Prem been up to?

27 06 2010

Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda has been out of the headlines recently. However, recent Bangkok Post story attests that he remains politically active and engaged in extra-constitutional activism.

In a story that is about the high-profile and expensive campaign for promotion conducted by and for incumbent 4th Army commander, Lt-General Pichet Visaijorn – he’s the one who organized all the seemingly sufficiency economy propaganda from the south (see here, here and here) from where he now seems set for a top command position in Bangkok – is mention of General Prem.

According to the report, the military “reshuffle lists will be screened by the middle of next month after they are sent to Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda. The lists are expected to go to the cabinet in August and will be announced in September.”

The thing about this short note is that it all sounds so “normal.” Prem gets to review the military lists, recommend favorites, gong some and give his aged advice based on the interests of the palace and his buddies in the army.

Paul Chambers had some useful comments on this at New Mandala not that long ago and they are worth citing in this context:

“Members of this Council, because of their affiliation to the palace, appear to stand above politics, becoming yet another civilian hub of authority—though they officially serve at the sovereign’s pleasure. Among their duties, Councilors advise the palace but have also succeeded in shaping key political alterations. Currently, three of the most senior Councilors (ret. Gens. Prem Tinsulanond, Surayud Chulanond, and Pichit Kullavanijaya) are retired military men, making it arguable that the Privy Council has become increasingly militarized or influenced by the armed forces.  On that note, one of the Council’s most notable achievements has included the reinforcement of the “Queen’s Guard,” (the 21st Infantry Battalion of the Second Infantry Division).”

“May 19 in fact represents the eighth nail against Thaksin following the 2006 coup, 2007 constitution, 2008 judicially-enforced fall of pro-Thaksin prime ministers, refusal of the military to protect those governments from demonstrations, the cobbling together of the current anti-Thaksin government, judicial rulings against Thaksin himself, and the April 2009 “Bloody Songkran” military repression against Red Shirts. These moves against Thaksin have required a solid armed forces. For the Queen’s Guard, this has meant a larger military budget and enhanced authority over civilians to control military reshuffles. Indirectly and informally, this faction takes its lead from Privy Council Chair Gen. Prem Tinsulanond—hence its continued pull over the military.”

“Prem’s military hegemony owes to four factors. First, he is a shrewd political player, and has long played a careful balancing game to appease military factions. Second, as Privy Council de facto head since 1988, his voice has been crucial for military reshuffles, which must have the endorsement of the palace—upon his advice. Third, across a 69 year military career, he has earned tremendous respect among soldiers. Fourth, the sheer length of this career has allowed him to become patron to rising officers as well as shape the development of the military itself.”

“By 2010 some might have thought Prem to be a peripheral force since he had just turned 90. Yet, he has continued to be a cogent and leading participant in Thai politics—second only to the palace. And through an exceedingly long and successful career, Prem has managed to forge the military consensus enabling the successful sway of an arch-royalist military.”

More ISOC propaganda on the south by The Nation

2 07 2009

Regular PPT readers will recall that over the past few days we have commented on a barrage of ISOC propaganda in the English-language newspapers.

We can’t resist another jab at The Nation and its senior writer over what seems like an  obsession about ISOC and a certain military “hero.” In our earlier posts we suggested some reasons for this, so we won’t go into those again.

However, we do wish to discuss Thanong Khanthong’s most recent piece (The Nation, 1 July 2009: “General fights violence in the south with green revolution”), which is little more than blatant propaganda, suggestive of a style of “journalism” that should have died with the Cold War. It is also suggestive of the royalist attempt to regain the influence they previously had in the south; what Duncan McCargo termed the “network monarchy.”

Thanong is apparently “embedded” with Lt-General Pichet Visaijorn and lauds him as “very strong” and having the “leadership qualities” required for the troubled south. Thanong claims that the general is “more like a movie star” and lauds his ability to be able to sit at the same breakfast table as “local Muslim people.” Of course, the noble general only uses military power against the insurgents, to fend them off.

Thanong also proclaims the general’s use of the sufficiency economy idea at a model farm where he is greeted by “several hundred villagers” who, it is claimed, relish the idea of dressing up to celebrate the general. By the way, this general also single-handedly “introduced organic fertilizer to the Northeast”!

PPT is sure those Northeastern farmers with cattle and buffalo will be eternally grateful, never having thought of organic fertilizer before.

Along with his fertilizer stories, the sufficiency economy nonsense and his adulation of the general, Thanong seems surprised to learn that “When you talk to the local Muslim people, you immediately find out that they are very nice people.”

If nothing else, this series of commentaries for ISOC indicates the level to which standards have declined at The Nation. It seems that hating Thaksin makes the military and security organisations the new heroes.

Editorial propaganda

1 07 2009

As we reported recently, the Bangkok Post seems to be taking paid advertising from the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) regarding the south and sufficiency economy. In addition to the full-page pronouncements PPT reported, this past weekend there were two more similar pages of ISOC propaganda in the print edition.

The Nation, however, has taken a different approach. It has a full editorial that takes up the same issues as in the Bangkok Post advertisements. The Nation’s editorialist (29 June 2009: “The EM General Who is Making a Difference”) lauds Lt-General Pichet Visaijorn as taking an “unconventional” approach by preferring political to military options. It followed-up a day later with an opinion piece (The Nation, 30 June 2009: “The Battle to Win Hearts and Minds in the Deep South”) also lauding Pichet.

Perhaps this reflects the debate over strategy between General Anupong Paochinda, who prefers military means, and the Democrat Party-led government which claims to prefer a political solution.

By the way, “EM” seems to refer to organic fertiliser. We resist the temptation to make a joke out of the fertiliser.

For the Nation, the big issue seems to be that Pichet is said to be following the wisdom of the king. As with most things associated with the monarchy, there is no evidence provided to suggest that this strategy works. In fact, there seems only ISOC’s own propaganda. In any case, to claim that this strategy is the king’s strategy is yet another example of rewriting history. This time, a strategy used by General Prem Tinsulanonda to break the communists, is now credited to the king.

Of course, PPT’s assumptions about being paid for reproducing propaganda could be wrong, and both newspapers could be doing this for free. Whether paid or otherwise, PPT condemns both newspapers for their willingness to be tools of ISOC propaganda.

As a note, PPT notes that all of this ISOC propaganda comes as the families of the victims of the Tak Bai official murders have been again rebuffed by the courts. They seek justice in a case that seems so clear to all except the establishment that closes ranks around its own, even when their actions result in 78 deaths.

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