Palace politics

11 05 2009

Yesterday, PPT commented on Thanphuying Viriya Chavakul’s interview (Bangkok Post, 10 May 2009: “Thanphuying speaks out on Sondhi and Thaksin”) that seemed to indicate that politics in the palace was increasingly divided.

We missed it, and thank Bangkok Pundit for the excellent analysis of Shawn Crispin’s latest article at Asia Times Online (7 May 2009: “My friend is my enemy in Thailand”). Because of Bangkok Pundit’s excellent commentary, PPT won’t add much, except to link to the issue of divided and divisive palace politics.

Crispin claims that Thaksin Shinawatra is trying to enhance his “negotiating leverage” over his seized assets by attacking privy councilors for “orchestrating the 2006 coup and recently alleged in an interview with the Financial Times that King Bhumibol Adulyadej had foreknowledge of the putsch. Before that, Thaksin is also known to have lost touch with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, reaffirming the notion that neither is the monarchy a static institution with its relationships.” Now, Crispin claims that he has been told by unnamed “diplomats and a well-placed palace source, [that] Thaksin had on several occasions after returning from exile in 2008 met with Vajiralongkorn in Bangkok via his trusted associate, Sino Thai Engineering and Construction Company chairman Anutin Charnvirakul. The two had also met on at least two separate occasions when Thaksin was in exile in London after the 2006 coup and Vajiralongkorn spent nine months of calendar 2007 in Europe.”

Crispin then observes that, “It was lost on few seasoned observers that the UDD’s April 12 assault on Prime Minister’s Office secretary general Nipon Prompan’s car at the Ministry of Interior had particular symbolic value because of the senior bureaucrat’s known close ties to Vajiralongkorn, including formative years together at a European boarding school. Some diplomats have interpreted that assault and the UDD’s public criticisms of top privy councilors as a strong signal that Thaksin and his allies could complicate the impending royal succession, where Vajiralongkorn is the heir apparent to the throne. At the same time, many believe Thaksin may have overstepped the mark by mentioning the widely revered 81-year-old Bhumibol in recent political remarks to the foreign media.”

He also refers to Sondhi Limthongkul’s attacks on army chief Anupong Paochinda andarmy chief of staff General Prayuth Chan-ocha over the failed assassination bid, that Sondhi is taking “hard aim at Anupong and Prayuth, [who are] both established royalists who served in Queen Sirikit’s Royal Guard Infantry Regiment…”. This has caused “diplomats and analysts wonder whether Sondhi will continue to mobilize defense-of-the-monarchy themes at any future protests, including ones that potentially target top military officials or royal advisors.”

Crispin also mentions Sondhi’s allegations against Thanphuying Viriya and Crispin adds another name associated with the queen, mentioning the: “apparent fall from favor of top royal advisor and Sondhi ally Piya Malakul, who according to one royal insider hasn’t attended functions at the palace for over a month. Piya is known to be close to Queen Sirikit and was often the lone advisor to accompany Bhumibol when he previously took outdoor walks around his seaside palace in Hua Hin. One palace insider says that Piya was the top advisor who suggested that Queen Sirikit attend the funeral services of a PAD protester killed during a melee with police last October 7, indicating to some tacit royal backing for the PAD. Piya was also accused by Thaksin of playing host to a dinner at his residence in May 2006 where the coup against his government was allegedly planned. Piya has strongly denied the charges, claiming no military officials were present at the meeting.”

It seems that Thailand’s political conflicts are shaking up the palace.

UDD rallies, PAD parties, Thanphuying Viriya talks

10 05 2009

It seems like a big news day in Thailand. PPT wants to briefly link to three stories.

First, the UDD is about to rally in Bangkok. The police expect 20,000 to attend, while Democrat spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks worries that the” UDD leaders could be stirring up violence and security units were ordered to stay on high alert” (Bangkok Post, 10 May 2009: “Tight security for red shirts meet”). The police estimate of possible attendance is remarkable given the events of the Songkhran uprising and the negative propaganda campaign since.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that 20,000 showed up in pouring rain to meet in a field that became a mud patch.

Second, PAD seems to be moving ever closer to forming a political party (Bangkok Post, 10 May 2009: “PAD decides on party creation on 25th”). PAD “figure Sirichai Maingarm said PAD members would vote in the upcoming general assembly to decide whether the group would establish a political party. The first round of voting would take place when around 700-800 leading members from throughout the country convene on the 24th. The mass would make their votes the following day. No less than 30,000 supporters were expected to turn up for the voting…”.

Mr Sirichai said if a party was to be created the group would still have room for members who disagreed with party establishment so they could still conduct mass demonstrations. Should the verdict be against party establishment, the PAD would vote on which political party it would support so it could take its political fight into parliament.

The third story is the interview with Thanphuying Viriya Chavakul, accused of masterminding the assassination attempt on PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul (Bangkok Post, 10 May 2009: “Thanphuying speaks out on Sondhi and Thaksin”). PPT found the whole interview quite remarkable, so rather than quoting from it, we urge readers to click through to it.We only point out the insight it provides into the apparently divided world of palace politics.

Army commander denies, police don’t know

7 05 2009

When asked to comment on rumours that Thanphuying Viriya Chavakul had been involved in organizing the botched hit on  Sondhi Limthongkul, Army chief General Anupong Paochinda denied knowledge and threatened to sue anyone who linked him to the assassination attempt (The Nation, 7 May 2009: “Army chief will sue if linked to Sondhi plot”). He said: “Don’t link me with anyone involved in the shooting.” Anupong repeated his pledge to co-operate with the police or suggested that the army might launch its own investigation.

Meanwhile, “Police chief investigator Pol General Thanee Somboonsap said he had no idea about Sondhi’s statement linking ‘a noble lady’ with the shooting.” He added, “I don’t know anything about it. You have to ask Sondhi yourself about that…”. Thanee explained that “he could not tell whether he could solve the case before he retires in October,” astutely observing “It depends on how much evidence police can produce or gather…”. Adding to this trail of apparent unawareness, Thanee said “the forces did not know about a lead that an Army sergeant major was behind the dud M-79 grenade shell found in a city bus travelling near Sondhi’s vehicle during the shooting.”

Queen’s “lady-in-waiting” denies Sondhi assassination role

3 05 2009

The Bangkok Post’s front page (3 May 2009: “Thanpuying denies plotting to kill Sondhi”) has a story where Thanpuying Viriya Chavakul, the queen’s the lady-in-waiting denies being “the mastermind behind the attempted assassination of People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul.”

Such a denial raises many questions and is to be considered in the context of Sondhi’s recent claims about those who want him eliminated.

He believed the attack on him had been “a joint work of powerful people.”  Sondhi also claimed that the attack was “a clear threat to the Thai media as those behind the strike wanted to send the message to all the media to stop reporting accurate news.” Given the proclivities of his own media, this seems an odd claim, but Sondhi believes that he is a “journalist” whose “clear objectives [are] to report what is really happening in the country.”

Forgetting all of the history of previous murders of journalists and intimidation of the press, Sondhi boldly claims that: “This is the first time in the Thai history that the media was threatened in the brutal way” (Nation, 2 May 2009: “Strike is a sign anyone can be killed including PM : Sondhi”).

In an interview in The Nation (2 May 2009: “Interview with Sondhi Limthongkul”), Sondhi claims that the ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra has seen the rapid return of “old style politics.” He adds: “It became clear when the military coerced the switch of the coalition alliance to the Democrat Party. I am convinced this is proof of the [continued existence] of the old political cliques and the military desiring to retain their political domination.”

He sees the potential for the rise of the “old-style” Ruam Jai Thai Party to be headed by current Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. Following a house dissolution, Prawit will be leader of this military-backed party, will secure an election victory through the patronage system, vote-buying and the support of the Ministry of Interior and police. Prawit would be replaced by current army commander General Anupong Paochinda.

Sondhi sees himself as the main obstacle to this plan and hence the plot to assassinate him.

He adds that: “Certain soldiers are paying lip service to the monarchy although they are not really loyal. I suspect they just care for themselves. They want prestige, aim to increase the budget for arms procurement and ensure their survival.”

And, never avoiding controversy, Sondhi observes a kind of kinship with the red shirts: “As a matter of fact, I am not much different from the red shirts. If the soldiers stage a coup to grab power, I will fight. If the coup is for a complete change, then I differ from the red shirts. I still see the need to uphold the monarchy. But the red shirts are not so clear on this issue. My key difference from the red shirts is that I uphold the three pillars – Nation, Religion and Monarchy. The red shirts and I share the same goal for social revolution.”

Updates: For a background onViriya Chavakul, see Bangkok Pundit. For more on Sondhi’s press conference, see here.

It is now reported that, according to Thanpuying Charungjit Teekara, deputy private secretary to Her Majesty, that Thanpuying Viriya is not a lady-in-waiting. According to the first Lady, such a position requires appointment by His Majesty the King and the appointment must be announced in the Royal Gazette. Thanpuying Viriya was also said to hold no position in the Bureau of the Royal Household. Seems like the palace is embarrassed.

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