Military godfathers and the corruption of parties and politics

26 09 2021

Thai PBS reports on continuing ructions in the Palang Pracharat Party that has Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s underlings pitted against Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. It turns out that the failed plot to unseat Gen Prayuth during the recent censure debate was only round 1 of this fight.

The start of the second round came when plotter and convicted heroin trafficker and “influential person” Thammanat Prompao retained his Party post. It is presumed that General Prawit was behind this. Prawit then doubled-down, appointing “a former Army rival of the PM” as the Party’s new chief strategist. Gen Vitch Devahasdin Na Ayudhya took this “powerful post previously held by the current party leader, Deputy Premier General Prawit…”.

Previously, in 2010, Gen Vitch was assistant Army chief and “was appointed to the Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation, which was tasked with handling the red-shirt protests against Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government.”

In that year, Gen Vitch was competing with Gen Prayuth to “succeed outgoing Army chief Gen Anupong Paochinda. However, the post was eventually handed to Gen Prayut instead.” This despite Gen Vitch’s long connection with Gen Prawit.

Readers can read the whole story for the details or plow through the most recent post at Secret Siam, which posits a deep and long struggle, including speculation regarding parts played by none other than Thaksin Shinawatra.

One thing is clear: that the rise and rise of the unsavory Thammanat demonstrates how “a powerful political broker” with a criminal past (who knows about the present?) can float to the top through links built through equally unsavory characters in the military (and higher).

The story of Thammanat’s rise is like a Thai version of “The Godfather,” but most of the protagonists are military mafia.

Thai PBS says “Vitch has been close to Gen Prawit since their early years in the Royal Thai Army three decades ago, and reportedly introduced Thammanat to Prawit.” It goes on to say that it was Thammanat who “helped Vitch to get into the ruling party.”

Gen Vitch is open regarding his links to “dark influences,” saying:

he has known Thammanat since the latter worked for his long-time friend Gen Trairong Intarathat. Also known as “Seh Ice”, Trairong once served as an adviser to then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and was described as an influential figure.

So mafia-connected military figures have swirled through various governments for several years. For those who don’t know Seh Ice, his brief obituary says this:

Gen Trairong was born on Sept 1, 1949, the fourth of the four sons of Maj Phone Intarathat, a former director of the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, and ML Kanyaka Suthat.

He was a Class 10 student of the Armed Forces Academy Preparatory School and Class 21 cadet of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy in the cavalry division.

His classmates at the Armed Forces Academy Preparatory School included Thaksin, Gen Anupong Paojinda, the current interior minister, ACM Sukumpol Suwanathat, a former defence minister, and Gen Prin Suwanathat, a former transport minister.

He held several important positions in military service, including specialist attached to the Supreme Command, chief of the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence, an army specialist, and chief of staff officers for the defence minister (Gen Thammarak Issarangura Na Ayutthaya).

Not long before he died in 2016, he was identified, along with Thammanat, Seh Ice was identified in a military report as an influential mafia boss:

Two of four people reportedly named as “influential criminal figures” on a military document deny any wrongdoing, saying there is not a shred of truth to the allegation.

“That’s ridiculous, and I’m wondering which [security] people think like that,” former army specialist Gen Trairong Intaratat, better known as Seh Ice, said yesterday….

The three others named in the document are Karun Hosakul, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Bangkok’s Don Muang district; Capt Thammanat Prompao, a former close aide to Gen Trairong and said to be involved in several enterprises including lottery ticket distribution; and Chaisit Ngamsap, who is alleged to be connected to illegal activities in the Mor Chit area of Bangkok.

Capt Thammanat, a former military officer, said he had contacted 1st Division commander, Maj Gen Narong Jitkaew, to ask him about the document and was told the information came from an intelligence report and there were no plans to summon him.

And, here’s an AFP report from 1998, with Thammanat playing a lead role:

BANGKOK, Sept 9 (AFP) – Eighteen middle-ranking Thai military officers are being investigated for links to an international heroin trafficking operation, the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces said Wednesday.

General Mongkol Ampornpisit said the officers had been re-admitted into the military in the past two years and the scandal, the latest in a series to rock the Thai military, had prompted him to order that all recently re-admitted officers have their backgrounds checked.

“I have submitted the names of all re-admitted officers for the last two years to have their criminal backgrounds checked with the police,” General Mongkol told reporters, without elaborating on the heroin trafficking allegations.

He said he hoped the move to vet officers would help contain one of the biggest scandals to hit the Thai military establishment in many years.

The revelation of the heroin investigation follows another scandal involving an army captain at the centre of a murder probe, who had previously served a jail term in Australia for drug trafficking.

Mongkol conceded the military had been lax when re-admitting Captain Patchara [Thammanat] Prompao into the armed forces after he was fired twice and convicted of narcotics trafficking.

Patchara is now in detention awaiting trial in a civilian court after he surrendered to police on Monday to face charges that he raped and then beat a male academic to death.

In June, amid a drive was to make the armed forces more accountable, the government demanded the military disclose the contents of secret bank accounts they had been allowed to keep.

Earlier this year the armed forces were accused by opposition politicians of involvement in vast illegal logging operations in northern Thailand.

So many connections, so many charges – none of which have held up in the Thailand. That’s what a mafia system is about and this is how it works. More tellingly, the military continues to reward crooks who slither to the top.

As the Bangkok Post reports, the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School has recognized Thammanat as and outstanding alumnus:

The controversial soldier-turned-politician was nominated for the award this year, but due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the usual annual ceremony to present the award to him and other outstanding Afaps alumni has been postponed until next year….

It is said Thammanat has declined the award, but the “honoring” of one of its most corrupt alumni is a telling indictment of a corrupt organization. The military (and police) cannot tell right from wrong, and instills this “value” in its new officer cadets.

Fearful, covering up or just thick?

30 08 2018

The military junta has emphasized Thailand’s “uniqueness.” Thailand is probably the world’s only military dictatorship, it “protects” the monarchy more intensely than almost any other constitutional monarchy, its lese majeste law carries higher sentences than anywhere else and more.

It is probably not unique that it has officials and appointed members of assemblies who say some of the dumbest things that could possibly be imagined. They do this with straight faces, without a smile and appear to believe the daft things that flow from their mouths, seemingly disconnected from anything resembling a brain.

Likewise, we don’t think it is unique when the main “anti-corruption” bodies prefer to obfuscate, lie and cover-up for their bosses/friends/dictators.

But combining those “anti-corruption” bodies with officials saying the dumbest things may be unique.

As a case in point is Surasak Keereevichiena, a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission reportedly stated that “[i]t is difficult for the nation’s anti-graft agency to conclude whether there was any wrongdoing in the Bt1.13-billion purchase of fake ‘remote substance detectors’…”.

That’s bad enough, but what was the reason for this outrageous claim? Get this: Surasak “said it was likely that officials had decided to purchase the devices because they believed the devices would work.” Making this dopey statement dopier still, he babbled that “[s]ometimes, it is not about the value of devices. It’s more about belief, just like when you buy Buddha amulets…”.

Now what is Surasak prattling about? None other than the plastic handled scam wand, the GT200.

Wikipedia’s page says this:

The GT200 is a fraudulent “remote substance detector” that was claimed by its manufacturer, UK-based Global Technical Ltd, to be able to detect, from a distance, various substances including explosives and drugs. The GT200 was sold to a number of countries for a cost of up to £22,000 per unit, but the device has been described as little more than “divining rods” which lack any scientific explanation for why they should work. After the similar ADE 651 was exposed as a fraud, the UK Government banned the export of such devices to Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2010 and warned foreign governments that the GT200 and ADE 651 are “wholly ineffective” at detecting bombs and explosives. The owner of Global Technical, Gary Bolton, was convicted on 26 July 2013 on two charges of fraud relating to the sale and manufacture of the GT200 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

For Thailand, where the prices paid reached the maximum, this story goes back beyond the early days of this blog. Our first post was in early January 2010, when General Pathomphong Kasornsuk reportedly wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to urge that a committee investigate the army’s procurement scheme for GT200 “bomb detectors.”

But the news reports of early 2010 point to an earlier purchase of the GT200, by the air force in 2004 or 2005.  Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) says future 2006 coup leader ACM Chalit Phukpasuk was commander at the time. 2006 junta boss Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), was impressed with the device and it was used at that time by a unit which provided security for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The Wikipedia page says this about Thailand:

The GT200 was used extensively in Thailand. Reportedly, some 818 GT200 units were procured by Thai public bodies since 2004. These include 535 bought by the Royal Thai Army for use combating the South Thailand insurgency and another 222 for use in other areas, 50 purchased by the Royal Thai Police for use in Police Region 4 (Khon Kaen), six bought by the Central Institute of Forensic Science, six by the Customs Department, four by the Royal Thai Air Force, and one by Chai Nat police. Other agencies such as the Border Patrol Police Bureau and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board use a similar device to detect drugs, the Alpha 6, procured from another company, Comstrac. According to the Bangkok Post, the Royal Thai Air Force first procured the GT200 to detect explosives and drugs at airports, followed by the army in 2006.[30] According to Lt Gen Daopong Rattansuwan, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Army, each GT200 bought by the army cost 900,000 baht (£17,000/US$27,000), rising to 1.2 million baht (£22,000/US$36,000) if 21 “sensor cards” were included with it. In total, Thailand’s government and security forces have spent between 800–900 million baht (US$21 million) on the devices. Figures updated in 2016 claim that the Thai government spent 1.4 billion baht on the purchase of 1,358 devices between 2006 and 2010. Even after the efficacy of the device was debunked by Thai and foreign scientists, Prime Minister Chan-o-cha, then army chief, declared, “I affirm that the device is still effective.” The Bangkok Post commented that, “The GT200 case was a unique scandal because the devices…seemed to fool only the people closely connected to their sale and purchase.”

Tests and experiments conducted in Thailand and in the UK showed that the GT200 and similar wands were an undisguised scam.

Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) pointed out that it was Army commander Anupong Paojinda “who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.” As we know, he is now Minister of Interior and part of the junta.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. “After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.”

Despite the legal cases elsewhere and the tests, Anupong, Prayuth and others refused to acknowledge that the GT200 didn’t work. They mumbled about soldiers finding them useful. Questions were raised about the commissions paid.

In mid-2012, reporters asked “army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha if the GT200 had actually been taken out of service.” The response was an emphatic no. Then the now premier and more than fours years as The Dictator, stated: “I affirm that the device is still effective. Other armed forces are also using it…”.

Indeed they were, including in the south, where people were arrested based on “tests” using the GT200. Prayuth “insisted the GT200 has proven to be effective in the army’s operations in the past. But he would respect any scientific test if it proves otherwise.” Of course, those tests had already been conducted. The (future) Dictator believed the GT200 worked. Full stop.

He was supported by then Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat under the Puea Thai government. Dense and commenting on a report that the Department of Special Investigation was investigating whether the devices were purchased at exorbitant prices, he “said: “The GT200 detectors can do the job and they have already been tested…”. He also babbled that the DSI “should also ask those who are using the detectors because if they don’t work I want to know who would buy them.”

By April 2013, the Bangkok Post reported that investigations in Thailand have shown that “13 agencies to buy 1,358 GT200 and Alpha 6 detectors worth 1.137 billion baht.” It added that fraud charges are being considered by the NACC.

More than 5 years later, Surasak has come up with his ludicrous claims that mimic his bosses in the junta. He added that the junta-shy NACC would “come up with a clear-cut conclusion on the matter ‘at an appropriate time’.”

He said: “if soldiers in the field … have faith in the bomb-detectors and believe they work, then they would consider the equipment worth the money spent. But he admitted that there are people who question their worthiness considering the prices paid.”

We are tempted to conclude that Surasak is dumber than a sack of hammers, but that would do damage to hammers. We should consider that he may be fearful of The Dictator and his team of military thugs. He might love them and feels the need to cover up to protect them. Or some combination of these.

A legal roundup

31 12 2015

The Nation reports that nine of the activists  who took part in a trip to Rajabhakti – Corruption – Park to “check out allegations of corruption”  have postponed meeting authorities for the second time. Two did show up and denied the charges. None of the 11 showed up when first called. The military regime is unamused.

Khaosod reports that the Ministry of Defense “investigation” of Corruption Park “found no irregularity…”. General Charnchai Changmongkol “explained that the committee only looked at transactions made during the construction, so it was beyond their duty to see whether some sophisticated corruption might have taken place.” In case you are confused by this, Gen. Charnchai explained: “We cannot say what is right, what is wrong…”.

Prachatai reports that the Supreme Court confirmed the impunity enjoyed by state murderers and “has acquitted five police officers allegedly involved in the enforced disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit, a Muslim human rights lawyer.” After 11 years of legal battlese, the Court “confirmed the Appeal Court acquittal of five policemen accused of involvement in the enforced disappearance of Somchai.” In yet another act of legal calisthenics that defines the judiciary, the Court “also ruled that the Neelapaijit family cannot act as joint plaintiff on Somchai’s behalf because it cannot be confirmed that he was murdered or injured to the extent that he is unable to act for himself.” In addition, decisions by the courts mean that “the current law only recognizes a murder case when there is a dead body.” State official will continue to hide bodies.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Civil Court has confirmed former defence minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat’s dismissal of former prime minister Abhisit Vejajjiva from the army reserve and stripping him of his military rank “on the grounds he did not go through the conscription process as required by law.” THe report states that “Abhisit … presented a fake Sor Dor 9 document, issued to males aged 17 and registering  them for the draft…”. He “dodged conscription…”. How very royalist elite of him.

More significantly, though, this same faker and liar is reported at Prachatai as being cleared by the National Anti-Corruption Commission of responsibility “for ordering the violent military crackdown on the anti-establishment red-shirt protesters during the April-May 2010 political violence.” Suthep Thaugsuban, his former Deputy, was also cleared, along with then Army boss General Anupong Paojinda. The NACC “has reached a resolution to withdraw corruption and malfeasance allegations against Abhisit, Suthep, Gen Anupong … and other military officers under his command.” The basis for the decision is “that the 2010 red shirt protest was not peaceful and that there were [unknown and unidentified] armed militants among the demonstrators.” The murder of demonstrators was considered to have been in accordance with “international standards…”.

The Bangkok Post reports that the military dictatorship “is fed up with [Ms Yingluck Shinawatra’s] behaviour delaying the investigation. She has asked for more witnesses three times, now totalling dozens of individuals…” in order to “to stave seizure of her personal assets as compensation for her administration’s rice-pledging scheme.” The junta seems far less concerned that Suthep repeatedly fails to show up for court cases against him and Abhisit.

Double standards? Bucket loads of them. Judicial bias and politicization? You bet.

A general’s unusual wealth and other corruption

27 02 2013

The Bangkok Post reports that the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has “resolved to freeze about 65 million baht of assets held by Gen Sathian Permthong-in, a former defence permanent secretary, his wife and their adopted daughter after concluding that the retired general is unusually wealthy and had made a false declaration of assets and liabilities.”

Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the NACC, noted that the general had “made a false declaration of assets worth 14 million baht while serving as a board member of the Warehouse Organisation from 2007-2008” and “was found to be unusually rich while holding the posts of Warehouse Organisation board member and chief of the Armed Forces Development Unit under the Supreme Command.” The NACC has sent the first case to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

Large amounts of money were transferred to accounts held by his wife and their adopted daughter as well as Thammasat University political science lecturer Sombat Chanthornwong.

This is the same General Sathian who had a brief dispute Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat last year when he was abruptly transferred. Gen Sathian had been permanent secretary for defence, and one report claimed he was a red shirt or a Thaksin Shinawatra ally.

It will be interesting to see whether this is a “political case” of revenge or if it continues. In one of its reports on the case, the Post reports that this case is one of a short string of corruption cases. One mentioned is Supoj Saplom, a former transport permanent secretary, in the famous burglars couldn’t carry away all the cash case, which seems to have gone very quiet, and another is said to be the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions 2010 decision which “found former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra guilty of being unusually wealthy and ordered the seizure of 46 billion baht from the amount he received from selling shares of Shin Corp, as requested by the NACC.” The Post is misreporting the Thaksin case.

In another corruption case the Department of Special Investigation has decided that then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban “violated a Cabinet resolution on the project to construct new police station buildings…”. The report notes that the “project has become mired in scandal because to date, not a single building has been completed since the construction contract was signed in 2011.” The allegation against the two is that “the Cabinet resolution that required the project to be divided by zone and offered to the successful bidders for each zone….  Instead, just one bidder was selected…”.

Political test for a constitutional monarch?

24 12 2012

As we noted in a previous post, the Ministry of Defense has sacked Abhisit Vejjajiva, backdated to his sweet deal with the Army teaching at a military academy, allegedly for using faked documents in gaining his position. That decision has not been without debate.Abhisit

The Bangkok Post reports that it gets a little more complicated because Abhisit may have “been discharged from the military, but stripping him of his rank requires royal approval, Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said on Monday…. The decision to take his rank away from him needs royal approval and must be published in the Royal Gazette before it is effective.”

In a constitutional monarchy, this should be a rather simple process, with the king signing off on a government decision. However, in Thailand, where the king exercises considerable political authority, there have been cases where the king has refused. This has usually been in support of political allies or to needle an elected government he found distasteful. A recent case began in late 2005, when a political campaign to keep the oddball but anti-Thaksin Shinawatra Attorney-General Jaruvan Maintaka in her position unrolled. Despite the lack of a legal foundation for her staying on, her claim, not apparently disputed by the palace, was that she was appointed by royal decree and only the king could dismiss her. He didn’t.

The Abhisit case represents another case where the king may again act politically.

Pitak Siam fails, judiciary steps up

1 12 2012

As PPT has pointed out in the past, the anti-red shirt/Thaksin Shinawatra/Puea Thai government alliance of royalists and neo-fascists has more than one string to its bow. While the Pitak Siam dinosaur rally might have been an embarrassing failure led by an embarrassing failure, this is not the end of the royalist fight to return government to the undemocratic forces of hierarchy and royalism. It has repeatedly been claimed and demonstrated that one of the main weapons for the royalists is control of the courts.

That control was initiated early in the current king’s reign as royalists sought to wrest the political loyalty of judges away from People’s Party leader Pridi Phanomyong, who had established Thammasat University. The palace’s coaxing, which included bringing former senior judges into the Privy Council, has been successful and in recent years we have seen the king repeatedly making political demands of the judiciary and heard coaching from palace figures to influence the outcomes political cases.

Hence it is no surprise to see that as soon as the Pitak Siam rally has fizzled out, the judiciary jumps back into the political action. Two cases illustrate this. The first involves the Criminal Court, which has revoked bail of Puea Thai party list-MP and red-shirt leader Korkaew Pikulthong “for violating his bail conditions.” The Bangkok Post notes that Korkaew is one of six United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leaders charged under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime as “terrorists” for their leadership roles during the red shirt rallies of 2010. Another 18 were charged with the same political “crime” that carries the death penalty.

Naturally, it was a Democrat Party MP Nipit Intarasombat who filed the petition asking the court to withdraw bail from red shirt leaders. Nipit is an ultra-royalist who has previous used lese majeste allegations against his political opponents. As the Constitutional Court sees itself as kind of royal-like and thus above all criticism, that Korkaew criticized it is cause for sanction, so he gets thrown in jail. Most regular readers will know that the Constitutional Court is politically-biased and corrupt. It is protected by this action in the Criminal Court and red shirts are suitably warned that they are not meant to criticize the royalist institutions.

To add to that warning, the Criminal Court dismissed the challenge to bail granted to other red shirt leaders but has moved to silence them, “banning them from speaking or taking part in political demonstrations and from leaving the country.”

Meanwhile, in another Bangkok Post story, the judiciary gets into the act again, with the Central Administrative Court halting Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat’s move to strip Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva of his military rank when the military investigated and found Abhisit “had used fraudulent documents to apply for and obtain a job as a lecturer at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.”

The courts continue to play royalist politics and their power cannot be underestimated in the royalist struggle to unseat yet another elected government and to “punish” red shirts.

Old soldiers Chaisit, Boonlert and Abhisit

11 11 2012

Old soldiers are in the news again.

General Chaisit Shinawatra, now an adviser to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (see the family tree), has apparently decided to demonstrate the continuing splits in the military. He’s ticked off by General Boonlert Kaewprasit, a Class 1 graduate, who is goose-stepping about at the head of Pitak Siam.

Chaisit has mobilized some of his buddies from Pre-Cadet Academy Class 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 13  to protest against Pitak Siam and Boonlert’s repeated calls for the military to stage a coup.

It is interesting that other military types argues against a coup, saying that “if there was another coup, it would inflict untold damage to the economy and it would regress in comparison with other Asean countries.” They also call for the “next administration should be installed democratically…”.

Chaisit accused Boonlert of  “being used as a frontman for the elite.”

Of course, Boonlert is deaf on such calls, not least because he hates democracy. He and his buddies got together at General Surayud Chulanont’s Royal Turf Club. The privy councilor might deny support for Boonlert, but the racetrack remains the venue for Pitak Siam.

It was there that he and royalist Prasong Soonsiri met with “100 representatives of networks nationwide to discuss a mega-rally to be held for two days and one night on November 24.” They want 1 million to show up, but the real point is to create a royalist anti-government movement to match PAD in 2006 and in 2008.

The Democrat Party is already counting on clashes “between pro- and anti-government rallies” in their efforts to destabilize the political situation.

Speaking of the anti-democratic political party, the other “old soldier” in the news is Abhisit Vejjajiva. Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat says he’s ready to sign off on a “ministry committee’s decision to strip Abhisit of the rank and salary given to him when he worked as military lecturer.”

Abhisit is saying he is going to sue the minister, believing the decision to be “politically motivated.” Of course, Abhisit is correct.

PPT wants to see Abhisit face charges, not for this faking that is common for the the kids of the elite but for his politically motivated decisions related to murderous crackdowns on red shirt protesters.

Stupid reporting

1 11 2012

Yesterday PPT pointed out The Nation’s malicious reporting on a recent lese majeste case. Today we point to the same newspaper’s silly report that the “government will not need to seek help from the military to suppress the anti-government rally led by the Pitak Siam group…”.

This is stupid (and probably malicious) reporting for three reasons. First, Pitak Siam hasn’t even decided when it will next rally. Second, it only got a modest, mostly aged and peaceful crowd estimated at somewhere between 6,000-20,000 at its first rally. The idea of “suppressing” the movement seems a ludicrous idea. Third, and most important, the report itself mentions that Defense Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat specifically states “people had the right to protest provided they did it under the legal framework.”

That is nothing like seeking to “repress” the movement of old men.

The Nation seems to be frothing with excitement and misinformation at the thought of more anti-Thaksin Shinawatra violence.

Royalist army

14 10 2012

As PPT has pointed out several times in the past, the Yingluck Shinawatra government remains skittish about any potential threat of destabilization. It mainly looks for these threats amongst the royalist camp, and so has been remarkably willing to give ground when there is any whiff of a challenge from the conservative elite and its supporters. Of course, the most likely threat always revolves around the military’s penchant for pro-royalist coup-making.

Two former U.S. military men, John Cole and Steve Sciacchitano, claiming to have been previously posted to Thailand, meaning they were probably spooks,  write on military machinations for Asia Times Online. Their most recent piece is ambivalent about the tug of war that went on over the just completed promotions and transfers in the armed forces. They suggest that Puea Thai’s Minister for Defense Sukumpol Suwanatat won a scrap with some of his subordinates but that Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha was able to maintain his control as well.

There are a couple of points worth noting. First, the writers point out that this year’s “list reassigned 811 senior officers, up from a normal 500-600 rotations, representing the largest military reshuffle recorded in Thailand.” Part of the reason for that is that Thaksin Shinawatra and Sukumpol didn’t want to directly challenge Prayuth’s men and instead chose a path of diluting the top ranks, which gives them more influence, without having to headbutt Prayuth in this round of shuffling and risk destabilizing the government. In the past, various army bosses used this method to weaken their competitors, and the result was that Thailand had more generals than some much larger armies. Golf courses also did well as generals with nothing to do hit the fairways.

Second, and significantly, the article notes that the royalist faction of the military leadership remains exceptionally powerful. They describe Prayuth as “a staunch royalist and perceived opponent of the Yingluck-led government…”. Nothing new there, but argue that he “was able to maintain his top spot and elevate many of his known loyalists to key RTA command positions.” They add that the:

military tends to view itself as the ultimate defender of the Thai nation and royal family, rather than the constitution or a particular civilian government. This somewhat vague but strongly felt sense of duty has often led the military to put it’s institutional interests – and in many cases the personal interests of senior officers – above those of the civilian administration that it nominally serves.

Actually, this loyalist royalism amongst the brass has been carefully nurtured by the palace, with Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda playing a pivotal role. Prayuth’s most important accomplishment, then, was in promoting royalists. The article suggests that he has been “able to put Lieutenant General [Udomdej Sitabutr] on a track to succeed him as army commander…”. They add that “Udomdet, previously the commander of the [Bangkok-based] 1st Army Region and a known royal palace favorite, was promoted to a full four-star general and reassigned as the RTA’s powerful Chief of Staff.” Udomdej is described as:

a royal aide and recipient of the Ramathibodi Medal for valor in combat…. That designation represents a strong tie to the royal family, as King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit are known to maintain close personal contact with recipients of the medal throughout their military careers. Like Prayuth, Udomdet spent many years serving in the 21st Infantry Regiment, a unit dedicated to protecting the royal family.

This means that a staunchly royalist general will be in place when the succession issue finally moves front and center.

Not all is lost in this for the government, however, as a more pro-Thaksin commander takes over at the 1st Army Region HQ.

Prayuth also strengthened the royalist and anti-red shirt/anti-Thaksin brass by promoting the commanders of the troops that were used to attack red shirts in 2009 and 2010. By doing this he is attempting to create a royalist domination for a decade to come. By trying to dilute this with extraordinary promotions, Thaksin and Sukumpol are seeking to gradually move control back to them after Prayuth is retired.

One element of the process and competition that is noticeable is the demonstration of just how debased the military has become over recent decades as its focus has been internal security, protection of the monarchy and slaughtering citizens in order to maintain the royalist state.

Prem privilege

6 09 2012

The Bangkok Post’s Wassana Nanuam has an op-ed trying to make sense of the reshuffle dispute between Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat, defence permanent secretary Sathian Phoemthongin and Chatree Thatti, generals all three.

What interested PPT was the claim that Generals Sathian and Chatree ran like scolded children into the arms of the ever-interfering General Prem Tinsulanonda, President of the Privy Council and self-appointed approver of military transfers, appointments and promotions.

The two baby generals submitted their complaints to the grandfather generals Prem and the other privy councilor General Surayud Chulanont. Now they have also petitioned the Administrative Court.

General Sathian blubbered that he “hoped that Gen Prem would ‘screen’ the reshuffle list before it is submitted to … the King for approval.”

If the Administrative Court refuses to accept the complaint, it is feared the case will set a precedent and this means a defence minister has the power to transfer a general, or even an army commander from his post.

Interestingly, the article notes that:

the Judge Advocate General’s Department scrutinise[d] all legal aspects of his move, especially Section 24 of the Defence Act which gives him the power to remove the defence secretary-general. Besides, intervention in military reshuffles, as alleged by Gen Sathian, is not unprecedented. Gen Surayud did it before when he was interim prime minister after the 2006 coup d’etat.

Equally interestingly, the top brass seems not to be complaining.


%d bloggers like this: