Updated: Prem dead II

27 05 2019

As mentioned in our earlier post, buffalo manure is to be piled high for the deceased Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. That said, there are some interesting accounts emerging. We link to some of them here and comment briefly on some of them.

The Bangkok Post has a couple of stories and will probably have more. One of these is a listing of Prem’s “achievements” and refers to him by the kindly term “Pa Prem.” In fact, Prem’s career was of an ambitious right-wing military leader. A second item in the Post is an editorial. Like the previous king, Prem is said to be “revered.” It would be more accurate to say that some rightist, royalist Thais revere Prem for his “loyalty” and steadfast opposition to elected government. Indeed, many Thais hated Prem as an unelected politician and incessant political meddler.

The main error in this editorial is the mistaken view that Prem decided of his own volition to leave his unelected premiership in 1988. The editorial states:

Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime would do well not to forget Gen Prem’s wise decision to relinquish power before the tide turned against him. The regime has been accused of trying to hold on to power at any cost, which is at odds with the example set by Gen Prem.

This view is mistaken as it ignores the long and intense political struggle that eventually forced Prem out. Indeed, that is what will be needed to force out out the Prem-ist junta and its illegitimate political child, the Palang Pracharath-manipulated coalition.

AP has a sound obituary that appropriately links Prem and Prayuth. It also makes a useful point via academic Kevin Hewison:

That coup [2006] was probably Prem’s last major political intervention, and it was one where he misjudged…. He expected elation and praise for his open role in getting rid of Thaksin. Instead, his intervention lit the fuse of a political polarization that continues to haunt Thailand’s elite.

The New York Times obituary is useful and forthright, with another academic, Duncan McCargo noting Prem’s long alliance with the last king:

The king trusted Prem absolutely … seeing him as an incorruptible figure who shared his soft and understated approach, but who was a skilled alliance-builder and wielder of patronage.

We are not quite sure how McCargo knows Bhumibol’s views, but his comment recalls his coining of the term “network monarchy” that describes Prem and the king’s manner of meddling in all manner of things in Thailand.

Reuters mentions Prem’s political meddling and the rewards he received from the conglomerates that benefited from his promotion of monarchy. Prem provided the links – the network – for Sino-Thai tycoons to connect with the palace and his politics provided considerable protection for the ruling class and its profits.

BBC News quotes its correspondent Jonathan Head on Prem’s role in making the monarchy more overtly political:

He will be remembered as an ardent royalist who helped to cement the monarchy’s place at the very top of modern Thailand’s power structure….

AFP has a measured account of Prem’s political meddling and the rise of the monarchy:

Hailed as a stabilising force by allies but loathed by critics as a conservative underminer of democracy in the kingdom, General Prem was a top aide to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and helped cement the unshakeable bond between the monarchy and the military.

It adds that “General Prem became a figure of revulsion in Thailand’s pro-democracy camp.”

Update: Bloomberg’s story on Prem’s death hits the nail on the head: “Royal Aide Accused of Plotting Thai Coup on Thaksin Dies at 98.”

Updated: Prem dead I

26 05 2019

The grand old meddler in Thailand’s politics, from the 1980s to recent times, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is dead, aged 98.

We expect the buffalo manure to be piled high for him as royalists and lazy commentators recall his time in power as an unelected premier as somehow better than now. In fact, Thailand’s politics seems strangely locked in the 1980s, and that’s largely due to Prem and his political and military meddling, promoting lapdogs and loyalists and refusing to accept the will of the people as expressed in elections. Others will not look beyond his “loyalty” to the throne where it must be acknowledged that he did much to promote the palace’s political role.

Update: Readers might like to reflect on Prem’s period as unelected premier. While not a great scan, Gareth McKinley’s 1984 discussion of a coup attempt is useful, with information on lese majeste and the monarchy’s political role. There’s an op-ed from The Nation (3 May 1988) “Prem’s rules of the game: A 1988 guide for laymen” which pokes fun at his leadership “style.”

And it is worth remembering how Prem was forced out in 1988 and “rescued” by the king, also from The Nation, when it produced an Afternoon Extra, from 28 August 1988:

On his 2006 coup role, WikiLeaks was useful. He also supported the 2014 coup, and New Mandala also commented. The BBC produced a profile in 2016, without too many of his warts. One of PPT’s most viewed posts “A country for old men?” is probably worth reading again.

On the road to nowhere (new)

24 05 2019

Is wasn’t hard to predict the final “election” result. PPT predicted a junta “win” a long time ago. The “win” was never in doubt as the whole process was rigged.

HRW’s Sunai Phasuk put it this way:

The March 24 general election was structurally rigged, enabling the military to extend its hold on power. While maintaining a host of repressive laws, the junta dissolved a main opposition party, took control of the national election commission, levied bogus criminal charges against opposition politicians and dissidents, and packed the Senate with generals and cronies who will have the power to determine the next prime minister, regardless of the election results.

What wasn’t clear is that the bumbling generals would be snookered by the electorate. Thai voters, despite all the rigging and repression still voted for anti-junta parties, with the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Puea Thai Party winning a plurality.

Despite this, the junta’s puppet party, Palang Pracharath, will head up a coalition of some 20 parties. While a great deal of bargaining has gone on, pro-military parties like Bhum Jai Thai and the anti-democrat Democrat Party were always likely to saddle-up with the junta – after all, they have supported it for years and worked for its coup back in 2014.

In a throwback to December 2008, when the military midwifed a government led by the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva, it is reported that there was:

a meeting between Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha], his deputy Prawit Wongsuwon, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on at a military camp in Bangkok…. They discussed coming together to set up a government with the PPRP as the main party, the sources said, adding that given the atmosphere of the meeting, the “deal” to form the next government is almost sealed.

The wheeling and dealing is over who gets what. Bhum Jai Thai wants a bunch of potentially lucrative cabinet slots that all seem focused on benefits for the Buriram clan. The Democrat Party wants anything at all that will allow it to look stronger than its horrid election result suggest.

Following the junta’s clear message, via the Election Commission and Constitutional Court, that it intends to grind the Future Forward Party into political dust, the deals were more easily struck, with most of the remora micro-parties and even the middle-sized parties rushing into the octopus-grasp of the junta.

How strong that grasp will be is yet to be tested. A 20-party coalition is a recipe for instability or for massive corruption in keeping it together. There’s also the “Prem model” who tried to ignore party and parliamentary bickering and ruled as a cabinet-led government. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth has a tame Senate. In fact, the Senate looks rather like the puppet National Legislative Assembly of the past few years.

A weak coalition government with an autocratic premier suggests that The Dictator will require strong support from extra-parliamentary sources – the king and the military. Neither is likely to be maintained without cost and deals.

Back in the 1980s, the main threats and support for Gen Prem were extra-parliamentary, and despite the image of a period of stability, saw several coup attempts.

The dead, the near dead and the grand tilt

10 04 2019

The king might have channeled his dead father when telling voters who to elect. Now, after the election, as the weight of the (overlapping categories) ruling elite, anti-democrats, military brass and king is used to get the result the junta wanted before the voters rejected them, the near dead Gen Prem Tinsulanonda has thrown his weazened body into the grand tilt.

All we could stand (clipped from Khaosod)

In what we hope is is last ever inappropriate and inelegant political intervention, the grand old manipulator not only (wrongly) cleared the military junta of any corruption and (wrongly) stated that the bunch of thugs “honestly worked for the public’s greater good.”

Junta members, military brass and The Dictator groveled before the president of the Privy Council. In return, Prem expressed great love for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha: “Thank you mister Prime Minister, my beloved friend…”.

In propagandizing the stealing of the election, The Dictator thanked the ancient troublemaker “for his recognition of the importance of the government and the military’s duty to protect the nation, religion and monarchy.”

Prem’s support for anti-democrats, military murderers and coup makers was made clear: “I’ve said that protecting our traditions and culture is the way to protect the nation…. I’d like to say this again to mister Prime Minister: protecting culture is protecting the nation.”

He wished for less criticism of the junta and called on the king’s protection for Gen Prayuth and his cabal.

This is just another nail in the junta’s “election” coffin.

Coronation date set

1 01 2019

As many will know, when the current king succeeded his father, things were a little bumpy. Accession was delayed, and while the junta backdated the reign, Thailand was king-less and under the grand old manipulator Gen Prem Tinsulanonda as regent for a time.

But the time has arrived. Presumably 1 January is suitably auspicious for announcing the coronation. The king has decided that his coronation, when he crowns himself, will be over three days from 4 to 6 May.

We guess that rules out May for an election, should the junta want to delay as long as is (currently) legally possible.

Here’s footage – mainly still photos – of the last coronation:

There’s no film of King Ananda Mahidol’s coronation because he was killed before there could be a ceremony. But here’s the footage of King Prajadhipok’s coronation:

Forgetting history

31 12 2018

The Bangkok Post seems to have had a brain fade. In an editorial, the history of the 1980s is rewritten with little attention to the facts.

It begins with a contradiction: “Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was last involved formally in politics just over 30 years ago. Last week, he climbed back into the ring for just a few moments.” If Prem’s advice to and support of The Dictator was a political involvement, then he’s been doing this for decades, even before he became Army chief in 1978.

It continues:

Gen Prem was prime minister of Thailand for twice as long as Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] has served, with less than half the disputes. No democrat desires a military leader, but everyone admits Gen Prem earned his title of “statesman”.

This is historical buffalo manure. Prem seized the premiership with palace support and the support of military factions. A commentary at the time stated:

In March of this year, General Kriangsak Chomanan was forced to step down as Prime Minister of Thailand and was replaced by his rival, General Prem Tinsulanond. Unlike his predecessor whose bickering with the royal house may have hastened his downfall, Prem has the confidence of the monarchy.

This wasn’t a coup, but was seen at the time as a silent or pseudo-coup. Emphasizing this, for a time, Prem remained Army commander while premier (FEER, 12 Sept. 1980).

In power and never facing election, Prem faced several coups (links to a short PDF), only prevailing because the king took him in as a much-loved unelected military leader, which encouraged the military to congeal around Prem. In fact, Prem went through three administrations as five cabinets. In this sense, the current military dictatorship has been more stable!

Prem also faced several assassination attempts, and there were countless disputes that destabilized the government and forced several reshuffles. Using the palace’s support and the support of parts of a factionalized military, Prem hung on until he was pushed from the premiership in 1988 – Wikipedia also gets this transition wrong – by anti-Prem and anti-military movements including the Petition of 99 (clicking downloads a short PDF).

Clearly, then, the editorial writer at the Bangkok Post has forgotten the history of which it was a part. It gets worse when the editorial states: “The 98-year-old president of the Privy Council made no attempt to keep political power when he left the prime minister’s post to an elected, civilian regime in 1988.” We can simply point to Wikipedia and the notion of the network monarchy (clicking downloads a 21-page PDF) as examples of Prem trying to manipulate everything to do with Thailand’s politics.

The Post should get its history right and then it might see the similarities between Prem and Prayuth.

Prem “votes” for The Dictator

27 12 2018

The groveling before the grand old man of conservative and royalist Thailand Gen Prem Tinsulanonda takes place a few times each year. It is military types who usually slither in to see Prem as, over many decades, they have owed him their positions and the perquisites that come with them.

The great political manipulator of the ninth reign has ordained military premiers and their unelected governments. He has sometimes anointed civilian governments that are prepared to kowtow to his and the king’s will. Those who don’t  are in trouble. Those he dislikes have been in serious trouble.

Now he’s ancient and increasingly frail, the snail trails to his taxpayer funded villa are a ritual. Even so, whatever he utters during these tedious meet and greets, have tended to be important for royalists as they saw him as channeling the king’s views. Prem made the most of this impression to promote himself and his influence. We can guess that his position as president of the Privy Council doesn’t count for much in the tenth reign, but royalists will still carefully listen.

Prem dispensed his usual “advice,” but the most important thing he did was “vote” for The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, praising The Dictator “for running the country with a strong determination to bring peace to society and drag Thais out of poverty. This was a role model for being the country’s leader…”. Prem should know. He ruled with palace backing for about a decade, hardly ever showed up in parliament and never faced the electorate.