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.





Rewarding the elite’s servant

27 05 2019

As we said previously, to say that Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is “revered” is inaccurate for it was mainly some rightist, royalist Thais who revere Prem for his “loyalty” and steadfast opposition to elected government. It is also true that many Thais hated Prem as an unelected military politician and incessant political meddler.

Those Thais who “revere” Gen Prem for his efforts on behalf of the ruling class also rewarded Prem.

A Bangkok Post report states that Gen Pissanu Phutthawong, described as an aide to Gen Prem – there seem to be several such men who claim a relationship with Prem – “had told him of his distribution plans for the assets and savings from his salary that he had accumulated since becoming a privy council member.”

The interesting bit is that while Gen Pissanu refused to disclose the amount of the money and assets,” he did say that “the total was hundreds of millions of baht.”

There have previously been disputes over Gen Prem’s wealth. His Foundation’s dissolution was announced in the Royal Gazette just a month prior to his death. It seems likely that his acolytes will squabble over his accumulated wealth.

Gen Prem not only received a state salary for his whole life since 1941 and spent most of his life in state-provided housing, using state-provided transport and so on. He also spent periods being rewarded by the Sino-Thai tycoons for his “service” to them as a political leader. Most prominently, he was associated with the geriatrics running the Bangkok Bank.

An academic account referred to the way that wealth that flowed to those close to the king, and Gen Prem demonstrates that.





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: