Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.





Traffic or something more?

4 09 2018

A couple of days ago we mentioned rumors that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has had some potential military challengers transferred out of Bangkok bases. We meant whole units being relocated, as the Bangkok Post now reports.

It is stated that the 1st Cavalry Reconnaissance Company of the 1st Division, the 4th Tank Battalion of the 1st Division, the 1st Cavalry Regiment on Thahan Road, the army’s intelligence unit and the 2nd Cavalry Division, the King’s Guard are all to be moved by October 2019.

In addition, the 11th Military Circle on Rama V Road will be relocated within greater Bangkok.

It is also stated that:

The army also has a plan to “dissolve” the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bangkok’s Bang Khen district and the 1st Infantry Regiment (King and Queen’s Guard) in the Phaya Thai area and transfer their personnel to other units, the source said.

We need help on this. Ostensibly this has to do with easing traffic in Bangkok. But what happens to the land?

Some of the units being relocated and dissolved seem important and are often mentioned in the context of the monarchy. If readers have views, email us or use the comments buttons.





More militarization

2 01 2017

The militarization of politics is a seemingly a worldwide trend. In Thailand, of course, it has been the norm for more than eight decades. Thailand’s military dictatorship has seen the military brass in charge of pretty much everything.

Military men in Thailand are not known for their intelligence. Rather, they are characterized by their dimwitted approach to anything challenging, their unbridled capacity for murderous action against opponents and their jellybacked contortions in the hierarchical society they have shaped.

With this in mind, PPT always gets wondering when a relatively new jellyback begins to get lippy on politics and the military. It might be just because it is new year, but PPT couldn’t help but notice a series of Bangkok Post reports all citing Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart. Why is he suddenly talking and considered newsworthy? What do his bosses in the junta think about this?

The first story is the most unlikely, but suggestive of the potential for conflict within the military. Yes, we know that the story is sold as the Army chief wanting to reduce conflict within the military brass, but the opposite seems more likely. Chalermchai states that he “adheres to the merit system, a mechanism employed to prevent problems associated with frustration over promotions seen as unfair by some.”

No Army commander has ever used a merit system, so this will upset the existing cliques, including the murderous “Burapha Phayak (Tigers of the East) … the faction of army officers who had served at the 2nd Infantry Division of the Queen’s Guard based in Prachin Buri” and the Wong Thewan faction that links to the “1st Division of the King’s Guard in Bangkok.”

Officers trained in quelling domestic political passions and ass-licking in palace circles will find the notion of “merit” threatening. Our guess is that Chalermchai may be seeking to limit the promotions of those officers considered close to the king.

The second story relates to “southern unrest.” He predicts a decline in violence over the next couple of years. However, his reasons for this claim are unclear. We wonder how he feels about the coordinating role of General Udomdej Sitabutr, a former Army boss, to run things in the south? Chalermchai’s position is likely undermined. Not unrelated, the conflict in the south is a huge money spinner for the Army, and this move involving Udomdej may siphon those funds elsewhere.

The third story is the most bizarre. General Chalermchai is reported to have “expressed confidence no coup would be staged to challenge the election results no matter who wins, saying the rules would be respected.” PPT had not heard any rumors of a potential coup, so we wonder why Chalermchai was motivated to speak?

In addition, the result of the junta’s “election,” now more likely in 2018 than 2017, is not in doubt. The junta will not allow a result it does not want and desire. So, who in the Army would be dissatisfied with the outcome? Who are the junta’s military opponents?

As it turns out, his response was to a question about what the Army would do if “the old political clique [a pro-Thaksin party] won a mandate to form a government.” That is simply not going to happen, so Chalermchai’s response is more than necessary. Why’s that?

He did go on to warn about political discontent: “It is useless to create trouble because it could give a reason to the NCPO [the junta] to extend the roadmap.”

It is always troubling when military types begin talking about coups and politics. Their heavy boots trample all and when more than one set of boots is dancing, many others risk being trodden on and being bumped aside.





Promoting political allies II

15 09 2016

A few days ago, PPT posted on the rise of the new Army boss General Chalermchai Sittisart.

It seems the Bangkok Post’s military correspondent essentially agrees with us. Wassana Nanuam reckons that The Dictator’s promotion of Chalermchai was a “bold move [that] has surprised many.”

As we said, there should be no surprise as The Dictator is selecting a man “well-suited with what he called ‘the current situation’.” She means well-suited to managing the military junta’s continued control of politics, “election” or not.

Chalermchai is not from the Burapha Phayak clique, having never “served in the 21st Infantry Regiment (Queen’s Guard) nor the 2nd Infantry Division where Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon grew into their military careers.”

But Chalermchai is well “qualified” for repressing the junta’s opponents. The new boss “is from the ‘red beret’ Special Warfare Command (SWC) where he had served in intelligence and secret services throughout his career.” He served on the Thailand-Cambodia border during the Khmer Rouge era meaning he probably made a reasonable amount of money.

He also served under another red beret, General Surayud Chulanont, now a privy councilor. The report says he “formed a close bond with Gen Surayud.” That bond and links to the queen have been critical for Chalermchai’s rise.

Gen Chalermchai’s is not due for retirement until September 2018 meaning Gen Prayuth can expect “stability within the army…”. The report states that “[s]uch stability is important for Gen Prayut if he becomes a non-elected prime minister of an elected government.”

Chalermchai’s appointment is also a sign that Prayuth “wants to maintain close ties with Gen Surayud and strengthen relations with the Si Sao Thewes clique of Privy Council president [General] Prem Tinsulanonda.”





Updated: A royalist’s royalist

26 08 2016

If you are a royalist, after the near-dead king, your favorite figure must be General Prem Tinsulanonda. The aged general and president of the Privy Council has turned 96 and, according to a remarkably syrupy article in the Bangkok Post, remains remarkably important for the current military junta.

Some commentators argue that the grand old man has been pushed aside by the regime, yet it is clear that the regime continues to provide the prim and interfering “boss” with the attention and supplication that Prem craves.

For over 30 years, Prem has been at the center of Thailand’s politics, and this has reflected his long alliance with the palace. Prem returned palace support by doing more for the political and economic domination of the monarchy than any premier since General Sarit Thanarat.

Since his appointment by the king as a privy councilor, Prem has also been at the center of palace politics. Palace politics under him became intimately aligned and interconnected with national politics.

The Post states that “[n]early three decades after he left office, the country’s 16th prime minister remains as powerful and commands a great deal of clout among the ruling generals and other military top brass.”

The brass, as almost all of them have done for decades, showed up to provide birthday wishes to Prem “at his leafy Si Sao Thewes residence.” (As we have said several times in the past, “his residence” actually belongs to the state and Prem “resides” at the taxpayers expense, despite the fact that he has become quite wealthy.)

Prem held the premiership for almost 8.5 years. These were not years of political stability. He retained power through frequent cabinet reshuffles, with the support of military-appointed senates, neglecting parliament and politicians and, most significantly, the palace’s backing.

The Post suggests that Prem “stepped down as prime minister” but this neglects the bitter struggle that took place, with Prem refusing to budge and with opponents threatening to reveal his “private life.” Eventually, the campaign for an elected premier won out. Prem has been bitter about this ever since; he detests elected politicians.

His bitterness was somewhat reduced by the fact that “[d]ays after his political retirement, he was appointed by … the King as a member of the Privy Council.”

According to the Post, Prem is “recognised as working closely with the monarchy and following an important mission to protect the revered [sic.] institution.”

Prem is known for his capacity for “eliminating disloyal subordinates and disrespectful foes.” Respect is something that makes Prem feel special. He feels he deserves to be considered special and important.

The Post suggests that those who put him offside include General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his group of Class 5 graduates from the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. They apparently sidelined Prem. Class 5 lost.

The other big loser is Thaksin Shinawatra. Prem came to hate Thaksin who he felt paid him insufficient respect and “crossed” him and the palace. Thaksin lost.

The military regime troops to Prem’s taxpayer-funded home three times a year and “offer[s] … good wishes and receive Gen Prem’s blessings.” As the Post also adds, the “Burapha Payak (Tigers of the East) and Queen’s Guard military units, which are known to play an influential role in the armed forces, also have to beat a path to the Si Sao Thewes residence, which has become a symbol of power.”

As expected, Prem has consistently provided the public support the regime requires from the palace. As the Post observes, “[t]his is a crucial time when the Burapha Payak and the Si Sao Thewes residence must stand united to weather possible political turbulence.” The alliance seems set to have a general become unlelected premier when an election is held, and Prem appears to support this.

Prem made it clear that he fully backs Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s leadership. He stated:

I trust the prime minister and that all of you can work for the country, with royalty [the monarchy] and make sacrifices….

No matter how big or small the difficulties are, I ask the prime minister to feel at ease that the armed forces and people will give encouragement to the prime minister.

He said he has always told others about how important it was that Gen Prayut and his comrades had to step in during this turbulent time.

I told “Tu” [Gen Prayut’s nickname] that old soldiers like us will do all we can to help Tu achieve the great mission for the country….

Sounds like Prem’s “vote” is in.

Royalists will listen.

Update: As a mark of the royal house’s appreciation of Prem’s loyalty and political works for it, he was given a special merit-making ceremony, “sponsored” by the king and queen. As these two are very ill and barely able to express anything, the show of respect for loyalty comes from the other members of the royal family and Privy Council. The report states that the “ceremony was held at Wat Rajabopit with Royal representatives, and some high ranking public and private officials also attending.” It was “Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont, who represented Their Majesties, and Air Chief Marshal Kasem Yoosuk, chief of HRH the Crown Prince’s Private Secretary’s Office, represented HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, also appeared at the ceremony to give Gen Prem bouquets and best wishes.”





Missing the point

20 10 2014

One of the problems that faces “academics,” in Thailand and elsewhere, is that when they become media pundits they over-reach and write about things that aren’t based on their “comparative advantage,” which is writing about things they have actually researched. This problem becomes especially acute when some of these “academic” pundits don’t actually do any research in what is meant to be their day job and they blather on about things they don’t know much about.

PPT recently read yet another op-ed by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies in the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University. It was a view of the military and its politics which while summarizing some well-established information, also left out a pivotal piece of information. We’ll come to this a bit further down. First we’ll summarize some of Thitinan’s summary.

Thitinan remembers the late 1990s as “a promising period of de-politicisation” for the military. He blames Thaksin Shinawatra for “a manipulative re-politicisation in the early 2000s…”. Our view is quite different and we think that Thitinan should actually do some research on this to enable an inevitably more complex picture.

The logical conclusion of this view is to essentially blame Thaksin for the 2006 and 2014 putsches. That the rise of Thaksin prompted the two interventions is not in doubt, but the story is, as ever, more complex than Thitinan allows. He says:

The cradle of political power in the current phase of military rule is a fraternal cohort of senior army officers, known as the “tiger soldiers”, who hail from the 2nd Infantry Division (Queen’s Guard). Never have the former commanders of this division held so much power in Thai politics. Understanding Thailand’s new rulers and the sources of their power requires knowledge of the regimental cradle that bred them.

… Chuan [Leekpai] gambled and appointed Gen Surayud Chulanont from an obscure advisory position to the army commander-in-chief position in 1998. For a few years, it looked like Mr Chuan and Gen Surayud were going to remake the army into a professional fighting force, trying to do away with conscription, reducing the top-heavy number of generals, and scaling down the size of the rank-and-file.

That’s only partly true. His claim that it was when Chuan Leekpai doubled as defence minister that saw “wide-ranging reforms to make the military more accountable and professional” is an exaggeration and missing three critical points.

First, the move to “reform” the military was a defensive reaction by the military to a civilian uprising in 1992 that saw the military (briefly) disgraced for grabbing power in 1991 (which initially saw Chuan’s Democrat Party very quiet, even supportive) and engaging in a massacre of protesting citizens in May 1992. Chuan was dragged along by the public that literally spat on the military, jeered troops in uniform and demanded fundamental change. Chuan, as an indecisive and weak minister, was simply not up to the task of reforming the military.

Second, when Thitinan claims that “Chuan gambled and appointed Gen Surayud Chulanont from an obscure advisory position to the army commander-in-chief position in 1998,” this too is an exaggeration. The most important thing about Surayud was that he was close to powerful figures in the palace. In this sense, nothing had changed, and it was Prem Tinsulanonda and the queen who were managing appointments, not Chuan.

Third, Thitinan’s aim at Thaksin for politicizing the military by promoting his cousin, Gen Chaisit Shinawatra in 2003, to army chief fails to take account of the army brass’s moves against Thaksin, which were often involving the palace and sought to undermine the elected premier and his government, as had happened to Chatichai Choonhavan in 1988-91.

There’s much else that is debatable in this flimsy article, not least Thitinan’s claims that Thailand was about to be invaded by the Vietnamese in 1979.

Most importantly, though, for some reason, Thitinan has decided to muddy the role of Prem, the queen and the palace in manipulating the military for their own political purposes. After all that has happened over the past 15 years, that’s a political choice and an academic failure.





Preventing the counter-coup

5 10 2014

Back in August, PPT posted on the military threat to the dictatorship. At the time, the Bangkok Post’s Wassana Nanuam revealed a motivation for the military dictatorship, saying that as then Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and others approached their scheduled retirement, they wanted to ensure that their successors did not stage a counter-coup.

We were somewhat skeptical, but then these military leaders are a very odd and politicized bunch of schemers and wheeler dealers, even if they are rather dull and unprofessional and untrustworthy soldiers.

What we didn’t figure was that the scheming military brass believe that there is a threat. This is why Wassana now reports that there has been a strategic “reshuffle of 371 army personnel…”. Interestingly, one of the big losers is said to be “Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya [whose subordinates] … lose control of all key combat units.”

Quoting unnamed sources, Wassana says the “move reflects new army chief Udomdej Sitabutr’s worries about a possible counter-coup and is being seen as a way to prevent it…”. Equally, the “changes are … viewed as a way to reward some of the officers who played key roles during the political unrest and the May 22 coup, [with] the reshuffle … intended to consolidate the power of the new army chief.”

Not surprisingly, it is the members of the Burapha Phayak, or Tigers of the East, that has been heavily promoted. After all, it is their bosses who mutinied and ran the coup.

Paiboon and his supporters have been sidelined, despite his role in the coup and the junta. Paiboon is not considered totally trustworthy because he “had close ties with key figures of the Pheu Thai Party and also had close ties with associates of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.” This means all his “boys” are also suspect. That said, this sidelining might yet turn out to be a political error, for the spurned may well revolt.

One of those rewarded is “Col Songwit Noonphakdi, … commander of the 11th Infantry Regiment, King’s Guard…”. He “led security operations for the safety of students after deadly confrontations with protesters at Ramkhamhaeng University last November. He also oversaw the response to clashes between anti-government protesters and a group of red shirts in the Laksi area on the eve of the Feb 2 election.”

As long-time readers will know, these operations were to protect those attacking red shirts.

The military dictatorship is taking no chances as they purge the nation of all Thaksin support. Of course, this is the plan that the anti-democrats put in place when they served as the advance guard of the coup.





The military threat to the military dictatorship

13 08 2014

At the Bangkok Post, military affairs journalist Wassana Nanuam is usually a reasonably useful reporter of military rumors. In her most recent article, she reveals a quite startling motivation for the military dictatorship:

As army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and other armed forces leaders approach their scheduled retirement on Sept 30, they need to be sure the transfer of military power goes smoothly and that their successors will not stage a counter-coup against them.

A counter-coup? If this fear is truly felt amongst the military junta, then it suggests greater dissension within the military than has so been evident in the past couple of years. Sure, there was talk of tomato soldiers – red shirt supporting soldiers – and so on earlier, but this seemed to amount to little when crackdowns and coups were needed.

At the end of September, Prayuth and the bosses of the navy and air force and the Supreme Commander will retire. All are members of the junta. While there have been postponed retirements under military and quasi-military regimes in the past, Wassana reports that such a strategy is unlikely this time, not least because Prayuth will likely be premier and other junta members may get cabinet positions.

So is there a chance that anti-coup brass might get to the top? While that is the implication of the line quoted above, it seems highly unlikely. The transition, long managed by Privy Council President, former unelected premier and General, Prem Tinsulanonda, he is now aged and losing his capacity.

Stepping in is “former defence minister Prawit Wongsuwan and [also] former army chief Anupong Paojinda,” who will be “the main architects of the transfer of power. Gen Prawit is now chairman of the NCPO advisory panel and Gen Anupong is deputy chairman.”

Prayuth, Prawit and Anupong “have kept close ties since the early stages of their military careers when they served in the 21st Infantry Regiment in Chon Buri. They were also members of the Burapha Phayak, or Tigers of the East, the name used by present and former soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division (Queen’s Guard) based in the eastern province of Prachin Buri.” They have been the principal “red-busting” force of recent years, slaying, jailing and harassing red shirt political activists and protesters. Under “the Abhisit Vejjajiva government. Gen Prawit was defence minister while Gen Anupong was the army chief and Gen Prayuth was deputy army chief” and it was they who planned and implemented the attacks on protesters in 2010.

They have also made sure that their trusted cronies got to the top in the military: “When Gen Prawit was army chief between 2004-2005, he assigned army officers from the Burapha Phayak faction to control the army’s key combat units, replacing those from the Wongthewan group. After the Sept 19, 2006 coup, Gen Anupong and Gen Prayuth took on the role of army chief successively.”

Deputy army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr “is favoured for the post of army chief. He is also a member of the Burapha Phayak group.” An unnamed “army source said Gen Udomdej is the one who Gen Prawit, Gen Anupong and Gen Prayut trust most as they and Gen Udomdej served together when they were young soldiers.”

The idea of a counter-coup seems fanciful, yet back in the period of Premocracy, it was only threats from within the military – often from disgruntled field commanders – that appeared likely to unseat Prem. It was support from the palace that maintained his position. PPT suspects that the current palace is with Prayuth, Prawit and Anupong.





More on those behind the anti-democratic movement

16 12 2013

In earlier posts PPT had some information on those behind the anti-democratic movement, with some emphasis on the so-called academic support. Much of this indicated that the support base in that area was pretty much constant from the first days of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. In addition, it is clear that the leadership of the federated unions associated with state enterprises have remained solid in support of the anti-democratic movement that is now in action as a scion of PAD.

The leadership of the current incarnation is now focused on Suthep Thaugsuban and members of the Democrat Party. In past movements, this lot tended to remain in the background, leaving campaigning to the PAD types. Yes, certain members of the party spoke on stage, with the unpredictable Kasit Piromya appearing on the stage during the 2008 airport occupations. Of course, for a while there were some debates between the Democrat Party and PAD, with the latter demanding more radical action. That demand finally won through when the Democrat Party showed itself incapable of winning an election.

In terms of financial support for the anti-democratic movement, rumor has it that the major sponsors of Suthep’s have been the Bangkok Bank, the Singha Beer, and some add in the Central Group.

But rumors aren’t facts. So two stories by Reuters are of some interest, and we realize that these have been well-circulated, so we just highlight some bits and pieces from them.

The first story at Reuters is regarding “prominent Thais” who have joined the protests. First mentioned is the selfie-photogenic Chitpas Bhirombhakdi who at 27 and with nearly 2,000 Instagram photos of herself posted, is not just a self-indulgent and self-important upper class youngster, but is also “heiress to a $2.6 billion family fortune and, according to high-society magazine Thailand Tatler, one of Bangkok’s ‘most eligible young ladies‘.” The report notes:

Chitpas, whose family owns the Boon Rawd Brewery that makes Singha Beer, had dismounted the machine [a bulldozer that was to bust police barricades] long before police pelted it with rubber bullets and gas canisters. But her gung-ho act showed how members of Thailand’s most celebrated families are discarding all past pretence [sic.] of neutrality to hit the streets in the hope of toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

We understand that several tubes of expensive moisturizer helped after the bulldozer scamming for headlines. Chitpas may be young for Thai politics, but her interests are with the old men who want to keep their hands on the political tiller. She supports harsher lese majeste laws – her family’s beer interests were initially co-invested with the then king back in the early 1930s.

Naphalai Areesorn, editor of banal Thailand Tatler, has also been spotting celebrities and hi-so opportunists at the anti-democratic protests. She is reported to have said:

“People you would normally see in the society pages were out there… All the people from big families used to be called the silent minority. Well, they’re not silent anymore.”

Spot market prices for sunscreen and cosmetics with high ant-sun indices have shot up.

Chris Baker is cited saying: “Banks, construction companies and other big Thai businesses have often openly supported Thaksin-backed parties or the opposition Democrats…”. True, but the big money has been with the anti-democrats for this movement is seen to best protect its interests.

Reuters reports that another “prominent Thai hitting the streets was real estate tycoon Srivara Issara, who along with her husband Songkran runs Charn Issara Development PLC. She led her own protest march from her company’s Bangkok headquarters to the nearby offices of the ruling Puea Thai Party.”Charn Issara

Srivara claims no party affiliation. “I really hate politics,” she said. Her march was inspired by her disgust for Thaksin (“that runaway criminal”) and her faith in protest leader Suthep, a former Democrat politician.

A friend in the PR business helped her dream up a protest slogan: “Moral righteousness comes above democracy”. Srivara publicised the march through Facebook and by personally handing out leaflets in the street the night before.

Thousands of people joined her peaceful rally, which she saw as an extension of Charn Issara’s corporate social responsibility programme. “It’s our duty to do something good for the country,” she said.

Here’s the company’s statement on CSR:

Charn Issara’s main principle is to differentiate the innovated projects and deliver only high quality product to exceed customer’s expectation. The Company ‘s ideology is to present only the best property development project to elevate better social responsibility and grant satisfaction to both the developer and its customers.

PPT has seen plenty of blarney in CSR, but this is pure marketing. She even dresses as she thinks a peasant did or would linking her to the religious base of the sufficiency economy nonsense that the elite embraces in ways that allow them to maintain their corporations and profits. So the company can build estates with golf courses and gobble up beaches. Its 2012 report can be obtained, with a 12MB download as a PDF, showing it as publicly-listed but family-controlled.

Another of Thailand’s wealth at the demonstrations is” Petch Osathanugrah, who along with his brother Ratch has an estimated fortune of $630 million. They own the energy drinks producer Osotspa and 51 percent of Shiseido Thailand.” It is known that the family has sponsored rightist NGOs and the report states that:

Petch believed it [another election] will only install another Thaksin-backed government, which will spark further protests.

His opinion of the mainly rural Thais who voted for Yingluck is unsparing but typical. They are ill-educated, easily swayed and greedy, he said, and their willingness to sell their vote to Thaksin-backed politicians renders elections pointless.

“I’m not really for democracy,” said Petch, who was educated in the United States. “I don’t think we’re ready for it. We need a strong government like China’s or Singapore’s – almost like a dictatorship, but for the good of the country.”

“I am longing for a Lee Kuan Yew,” he said, referring to former prime minister who oversaw Singapore’s economic rise.

We assume that he supported Thaksin Shinawatra when he wanted to be like the aged LKY.

The Sino-Thai business community, at least the big capitalists, have long felt comfortable with military dictatorships and see the monarchy as part of their created identity and a protector of their interests. They tend to see LKY’s conservative “Asian Values” ideas, which laud Chineseness as necessary for their prosperity.

Equally dismissive of voters is “Palawi Bunnag, a scion of a celebrated family of Persian descent who served Thailand’s early kings. Palawi, a qualified lawyer and frequent visitor to the protest sites,” and says:

Educating the electorate begins with people such as “our own drivers and maids,” said  felt people from northeast Thailand should be made to understand the limitations of short-term populist policies such as easy credit.

“They just want their lives to be comfortable, but they don’t think that in the long run they will have debts,” said Palawi. “Thaksin’s regime makes everyone have a lot of greed.”

Clearly, they have no conception of rural life or the changes that have taken place in the countryside.

But do they know the elite better?

Many in Thailand’s elite publicly excoriate Thaksin and his clan. But they also occupy the same rich lists – Forbes places the Shinawatra family 10th with a fortune of $1.7 billion – and move in the same rarefied circles.

Srivara Issara’s oldest son Vorasit, who recently vowed on his Facebook page to “beat the living crap” out of red shirt leaders, told Reuters he was friends with Thaksin’s son Panthongtae.

“Everyone knows each other,” said Palawi Bunnag, who – proving her point – is married to Vorasit and went to the same British university as Thaksin’s nephew Rupop.

Such proximity to the Shinawatras also affords a privileged insight. “They’re nice friends,” said Palawi. “But we also know their hidden agendas, their hidden businesses.”

They seem to be saying that the whole elite is a bunch of crooks. Few who vote for Thaksin are likely to disagree with that assessment. The subaltern judgement of politics seems to be that electoral democracy can produce some control of the elite, whereas the rich see it a nuisance for their profits and lifestyle.

The second story at Reuters: is not about the business elite but about the darker forces behind Suthep’s anti-democratic ranting:

But behind Thailand’s fiery anti-government protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, are two powerful retired generals with palace connections, a deep rivalry with the Shinawatra family and an ability to influence Thailand’s coup-prone armed forces.

The forces behind Suthep are led by former defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda, towering figures in Thailand’s military establishment, said two military sources with direct knowledge of the matter and a third with connections to Thai generals.

The report is clear on these two:

Although retired, Anupong, 64, and Prawit, 67, still wield influence in a powerful and highly politicized military that has played a pivotal role in a country that has seen 18 successful or attempted coups in the past 81 years…. It is unclear how far that influence goes, or how decisive they could be. But both have close ties to army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha. And all three have a history of enmity with Yingluck’s billionaire brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who they helped oust in a 2006 coup.

It adds:

Anupong was a leader of the military coup that removed Thaksin in September 2006 and two years later recommended on television that the Thaksin-allied prime minister step down. As army chief, he oversaw a bloody crackdown on Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters in 2010 in which 91 people, mostly red shirts, were killed. Anupong made Prayuth his heir apparent.

A former army commander, Prawit was a mentor of Anupong and a defence minister under the previous government replaced by Yingluck in the 2011 election. He’s also a close associate of former general Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, leader of the coup against Thaksin….

These older men are linked to a generation of soldiers nurtured by Privy Councilor Prem Tinsulanonda:

Anupong and Prayuth served with the Queen’s Guard, an elite unit with greater autonomy from the rest of military, with its allegiance foremost to the monarchy rather than the direct chain of command….

The report claims that:

As [t]his reign gradually draws to a close, long-simmering business, political and military rivalries are rising to the surface, forcing Thailand to choose sides between supporters of the Bangkok establishment or those seeking to upend the status quo – a constituency associated with Thaksin.

The king has now demonstrated his incapacity for political intervention as he is degraded by age and the interventionist queen is off the stage too. So the miltiary and the members of the Privy Council who can suck up their own drool step into the breech:

Prawit and Anupong had expressed readiness to intervene if there was a security crisis, such as a crackdown by police on protesters or clashes between pro and anti-government demonstrators, and if Suthep’s plan for an interim government was constitutional, said the source with military connections.

This even if “Suthep’s bid to upend Thailand’s current political order looks far-fetched.” But the military, while divided “has provided little security for her caretaker government at protests…”. The report adds, from a government source: “Once a lot of violence takes place and the government cannot enforce the law, then this country becomes a failed state. Then there can be a pretext for the military to come in…”. The report adds:

“Suthep is playing the game on the outside while Prawit tries to play the game on the inside,” said a senior military official who could not be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “General Prawit has been clear about his aspirations to become prime minister.”

The calling of elections is a last-ditch effort at a constitutional solution for the crisis.

For the moment, the military brass seems to favor elections. This leads to a dangerous situation where Suthep, with the Democrat Party now sidelined as a normal political party, needs violence and a coup if electoral democracy is to be rolled back.





Coup talk and Nitirat

9 02 2012

Wassana Nanuam at the Bangkok Post has a column worth reading. It is about the “threat” apparently posed to the military leadership as the custodians of  “royalist democracy” by a few academics asking that parliament consider amending the lese majeste law.

She recounts the time sequence of military threats to the small Nitirat group:

1) General Boonlert Kaewprasit: “chairman of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School Foundation and leader of Class 1, who recently urged all soldiers to protect the monarchy. He warned of a possible coup if there was no respect for highest institution of the land.”

2) Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha: against any attempt to amend Article 112. He infamously declared that anyone who supported the Nitirat call should “go and live abroad” and asked: “Were you born in Thailand?” He promised Nitirat: “If you guys play hard ball, I’ll have no choice but to do so, too.”

3) Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimaprakorn declared: “The armed forces are against amending Section 112. Personally, I strongly oppose it.” Joining the nasty attacks on Nitirat, he “criticised overseas-educated academics who support the amendment.” He warned them “not forget that they are Thai.” And, he wondered aloud “whether they [Nitirat] have any hidden agenda.”

4) “[T]he army has also deployed officials from the Internal Security Operations Command to play a “behind-the-scenes” role in countering Nitirat.”

5) Prayuth came out again to declare: “The armed forces are duty-bound to protect the monarchy. We will not stand still. I myself am against the amendment or any attempt to touch Section 112, because Thailand and the royal institution cannot be separated.”

Wassana observes that with “Pheu Thai in power, the armed forces seem to be the only hope left for the anti-Thaksin groups, including the yellow shirts, to end Thaksin’s political influence.”

But is a coup on the agenda? Wassana seems to think it would just be too much trouble, with the Army having learned a hard lesson after 2006. She also says that “Pheu Thai is wary of a coup but believes the armed forces will not do it this time because they would face public opposition which could turn the coup into a bloody tragedy.”

PPT’s view is different, and we think a coup remains on the agenda, but that getting rid of Puea Thai by “other means” a la 2008 is also on the agenda. But let’s continue with Wassana’s view that the “only thing the armed forces can do is not to turn to using force. They are using only their voice to tame those trying to put an end to the monarchy.” We assume she means: “They are using only their voice to tame those they believe are trying to put an end to the monarchy,” otherwise she’d be clearly biased.

She then adds a neat tidbit:

And it is not surprising that this campaign is led by the two generals: Thanasak and Prayuth. Gen Thanasak is a Special Guard for Her Majesty the Queen and Gen Prayuth has been a member of the Queen’s Guard for all of his military career, as an alumni of the 21st Infantry Regiment of the Queen’s Guard in Chon Buri.

She concludes, and we agree: “But do not blink, as anything can happen in Thai politics.” Especially when the military and palace are in play.