New military “hero” organizing “reconciliation”

6 03 2017

It has been recognized that Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong is flying towards the top. When a military regime is seeking to embed authoritarianism, it often happens that the lure of running things, having lots of power and the chance to acquire great wealth causes aspiring green shirts to take a shot of becoming the next military political “hero.”

Most regimes see upstarts pushing the bigger bosses. For example, Field Marshal Phibun had to watch out for not only royalists but also for General Sarit Thanarat and Pol Gen Phao Sriyanon. General Prem Tinsulanonda had the palace on side, but had to see off “Young Turks” uppity generals like Arthit Kamlang-ek.

Now it is General Apirat’s chance.


The Bangkok Post has been reporting on Lt Gen Apirat rather too consistently than his bosses might like. The latest has him arranging for the “governors of 21 provinces in the Central Plain [to]… team up with officers from the 1st Army to gather views of people in their provinces on national reconciliation as the government expands its push for forging unity upcountry.”

“People” has an odd, junta-friendly, definition, generally meaning “groups” like bureaucrats, academics and business people. The lower rungs of society only rarely get defined as “people” worthy of having “views.”

To kick off the (real) people-free “reconciliation” PR exercise, “governors were invited to have a talk with 1st Army commander Apirat Kongsompong on Friday…”. Somewhat garbled, the report goes on to write of “their joint move” in a “meeting of the chiefs of all units under the 1st Army and representatives from the Internal Security Operations Command.”

It all sounds rather like something arranged in the 1970s about counterinsurgency. Back then, the governors were the key link between the military and civilian bureaucrats. The arrangement meant the military dominated civilian administration.

Lt Gen Apirat has a similar view today, saying “the governors will be the ‘key men’ in this initial stage to gather useful opinions from people from all walks of life.” As it was several decades ago, it is the “military chiefs [who] will serve as supporters and coordinators to invite target groups to air their views at the roundtable meetings…”. And they will have to listen and learn to junta propaganda.

Which groups? They will be “local politicians, scholars, state officials and business persons in the provinces and community leaders and non-governmental organisations.” The real people still can’t be trusted.

The report states that they “will be encouraged to talk on 10 topics, set by the panel appointed to work on a process to restore national unity, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon…”. That is, the selected “trainees” will “discuss” only junta-approved stuff.

In case readers wondered, “national unity” was destroyed by Thaksin Shinawatra being a “divisive” figure. The military is not “divisive” despite its penchant for gunning down protesters.

Lt Gen Apirat declared that he wanted “all participants to adopt impartial attitudes…”. We doubt he understands the meaning of “impartial.”

He also “revealed” that there was an extra topic: “referring to a question raised by [The Dictator] … who wants to know how all parties view the ongoing problems facing the country and how they can help solve them bringing back a peaceful atmosphere.”

Um. Ah. Huh? The other issues in a reconciliation meeting don’t to this? Yes, we get it, Apirat is posterior polishing. When making a run for the top, ensure that current incumbents don’t feel they are in trouble or being destabilized. Butter them up and appear “loyal.”

All this faux “opinion gathering” at the provincial level has “to be completed within this month.” We guess that the military already has the required “opinions” on its lists.

These “opinions” will be processed by – you guessed it – the military: “Once the governors finish their work, the opinions will be sent to a sub-panel led by permanent secretary for defence, [General] Chaicharn Changmongkol.”

This might be good PR for the junta. It is also keeping Apirat in the limelight, where he prefers to be.

Too gentle on the junta?

2 04 2016

We would imagine that every reader at PPT knows of the commentaries by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an associate professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. He’s a prolific commentator and, unlike so many of his faculty colleagues, he’s actually published some reasonable papers in some acceptable academic journals.

His recent commentary on the Bangkok Post on the military’s draft charter and the junta’s referendum deserves some attention. There’s some good stuff in it, but considerable wishful thinking based on too little attention to history.

As we said some time ago, in 2012 in fact, we think support for a referendum on a long and complicated charter is dopey. It still is. Worse, unless there is remarkable civil disobedience and considerable elector stoicism to defeat the junta’s referendum, then the winners are the military and the royalist anti-democrats who will use a Yes vote as a badge of “democracy.” Of course, this would be ludicrous, but believe us, this is what will be claimed, again and again.

This is why trumpeting the referendum as “Thailand’s second-ever referendum” is a bit of polishing of the junta’s blackened pot of anti-democracy. To say that the “completed draft constitution will now be dissected and digested in myriad ways, although public reactions and views will be constrained by the military-backed authorities” is just too droll. It isn’t going to be dissected by anyone for to do so risks jail. The “debates” will be tame and managed.

It could be that “tensions will likely mount ahead of the referendum, marked by the military government’s escalating repression,” but that repression is meant to deliver a military gold star for the junta.

It is indeed “clear enough that the military wants to retain power over the long term,” but to suggest that this will be “Premocracy 2.0” is giving too little attention to the real history and circumstances of the 1980s, especially when this seems to be portrayed as a benign period of “military-civilian compromise and accommodation that functioned well in the 1980s…”. We think Thitinan should go back and look at the archives of the Bangkok Post to see how Premocracy really worked.

Yes, we have used this analogy with the monarchy’s regime under General Prem Tinsulanonda earlier in this military junta’s reign of repression, but we no longer consider this the appropriate comparison. As we have been trying to illustrate in recent days, this junta is uninterested in reconciliation (recall Prem’s use of Order 66/2523). Prem’s regime struggled with opposition within the military, and this seems, for the moment at least, unlikely to concern the current regime. Prem had the total support of the palace and king. That might be the case now, but the aged and sick king is now a political liability rather than a source of strength. We could go on.

Thitinan is right that “Thai politics during 1980-88 was widely seen as ‘semi-democratic,” but the point is that it wasn’t a semi-democracy or a “hybrid regime.” It was a demi-democracy or, in another terminology. “Thai-style democracy.” That’s the democracy you have when there is no democracy. Prem was seeking to embed this royalist version of rule. The current regime cannot do that with the king almost out the door and the crown prince incapable of massaging a late succession into the four decades the king had had on the throne by the middle of Prem’s time in office.

Nor was Prem’s period one of “stable semi-democratic rule.” As Thitinan himself states, “Gen Prem presided over five coalition governments and three elections, in 1983, 1986 and 1988. After the latter election, he called it quits and soon thereafter joined the Privy Council, eventually rising to be its president.” He didn’t just call it quits, he was forced to step down for fear of his private life being exposed (by some who now support him and the current regime). Apart from the 1988 election, the other two were meaningless as Prem was throwing crumbs to the political parties so that they could be taught electoral corruption.

For all of these reasons, Thitinan is right to observe: “In truth, what the National Council for Peace and Order [he means the military junta] wants is more than the Premocracy of the 1980s” but not because Prem was “smart,” “astute,” or “untainted by corruption scandals…”. Rather, the political economy was just different and allowed and required different responses. The notion that Prem just handed all economic decision-making over to the best technocrats is also to buy into a fairy tale of “good” policymaking triumphing over deals and compromises. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thitinan is rather too enamored of the idea that technocrats know best.

We’ll skip his comments on the Democrat Party.

We think that Thitinan, and many other commentators, is missing the most basic point: this military junta is nasty, venal and self-serving to an extent that has seldom been seen in Thailand. It is very dangerous to reduce these aspects of its deadly reality by comparisons with very different times and circumstances.

Liking it both ways

30 12 2010

PPT has added another short document to our historical commentary. Go here and look for the NEW! symbol. This document refers to the king’s political intervention in 1981, opposing the so-called Young Turks and supporting Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda, now the president of the Privy Council. Note the comments on royal political interventions and the notion of having it both ways on political involvement.

Chamlong on the Songkhran uprising, a coup plot, communists and the monarchy

27 04 2009

PPT understands that PAD leader Major-General Chamlong Srimuang is a major political actor in Thailand, and has been since the 1970s. At the same time, he is not the usual kind of politician, and maybe this difference explains some of his personal popularity over the years. As an unusual politician, he has not always been easily understood, especially when he is personally and politically quirky.

Some background before commenting on an interview with Chamlong.

As a devoted follower of the Santi Asoke sect, Chamlong’s religious views have been seen by some to underpin his politics and to explain some of his seemingly erratic decisions. A Young Turk military officer who was close to and served Prem Tinsulanond when he was prime minister, Chamlong was the founder and mentor of the Palang Dhamma Party (PDP) in the 1980s and it was this party that initially provided a platform for Thaksin Shinawatra. Chamlong was criticized for his handling of internal PDP politics in the last days of the Democrat Party-led government and he appeared to retired from politics, choosing Thaksin as the new party leader. In the elections that followed in July 1995, PDP did poorly, but was still able to join a coalition government led by the Chart Thai party. Thaksin was appointed a deputy prime minister. The PDP soon faded and was destroyed.

As Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party developed, Chamlong was a strong supporter and were a range of former PDP people. However, by 2005, Chamlong was speaking against Thaksin and TRT. He joined the PAD as one of its co-leaders and Santi Asoke’s so-called Dharmic Army were important to PAD’s organization and protest successes.

The Interview: This is all by way of introducing an interview with The Nation (27 April 2009: “Abhisit govt not in actual control”) where Chamlong’s ideas are set out, with some attention to the monarchy.

He begins by talking about the new political party that PAD is thinking of establishing and admits that some of its followers do not want to take this step. Asked about “new politics” – the code for a less representative political system proposed by PAD last year – he responds: “Palang Dharma actually practised the so-called ‘new politics’ which has been heralded by the PAD, even back before 1988, when the party was established. In 1990, an American professor who did his doctoral thesis at London University, later wrote a book entitled: ‘Chamlong Srimuang and the New Politics’. I guess it was then that the new politics was first recognised.”

Not quite right. He is referring to the book by British political scientist Duncan McCargo, Chamlong Srimuang and the New Thai Politics. By chance, PPT was reading this book at the very time that Chamlong was interviewed – 60 pages still to read – and the point McCargo seems to make is that Chamlong was not really representative of much that was “new” in Thai politics. Rather, he was a military man, interested in personalism, controlling, and so on. Packaged differently, but not so new. And, we don’t recall any serious PDP calls for reducing parliamentary representation for particular groups. Tell us if we are wrong.

He is then asked: “Who attempted to assassinate Sondhi Limthongkul…” and answers: “I don’t know, but there two motives behind the murder attempt: PAD has tremendous support from the masses across the country and ASTV’s success as a mouthpiece for the PAD, which is known as the core of the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra movement.” Chamlong seems to accept the view, once attributed to elements in the military and perhaps the palace, that both Sondhi and Thaksin are threats because of their ability to mobilize people.

The interviewer then asks why “Sonthi [was] the first target, … instead of those in red shirts?” Chamlong responds: “The people who gave the order didn’t care who they killed, first or later. But the current political turmoil dictated the order of kills. More importanly, there are known leaders of yellow-shirted people, who are even classsified as prime and secondary leaders, while there are no known leaders of red-shirted people. Should Thaksin be killed first? He stays abroad now.” Again, this is Chamlong affirming that both PAD and the red shirts are a threat to others in Thailand’s political quagmire.

The interviewer implies that Chamlong has said that there was an “effort to stage a coup on April 12 and 13” and asks why this planned coup was “aborted”? His response it that a “coup was seen as essential to bring peace – and secondly, it may have been used as bargaining power in exchange for a law to pardon [Thaksin], to promulgate a so-called Reconciliation Act, or even to amend the Constitution. Yet, I don’t know why it was aborted.” So this was a pro-Thaksin coup? Or was it a “reconciliation coup”?

Then the interviewer links this alleged coup and an “assassination attempt” – Sondhi or the privy councilor plot? – what did they want? Chamlong says that they “wanted power … to pardon some wrongdoers so they could escape serving prison terms and asset seizure. Or they wanted more and more power to become bigger in the country.”

The interviewer then jumps to what might be an unrelated topic – but then all of this does seem related somehow – and asks: “Does the ideology of some die-hard communists still exist? Was there any effort to revive it along with other tactics [used by the red shirts]?” Chamlong replies that “Some die-hard communists who became Thaksin’s allies will still pursue their ideology despite the collapse of Soviet-era communism and the capitalism now adopted by China. But it is very difficult for them to achieve their goal. They came up this time with a clear stance against the monarchy – a policy they never stated clearly during their armed struggle then. And they are complaining about the PAD using their anti-monarchy policy as the main goal in our campaign. It’s clear to everyone now that PAD always tells the truth.” He says that Thaksin was an ally to these communist anti-monarchists.

He adds that it is the “government’s duty to uphold and enforce the lese majeste law, as the anti-monarchy doctrine has been spread out and is now widely accepted by people who are highly-respected lecturers, who are admired by their like-minded students.” He sees this “anti-monarchy doctrine” as a “threat to national security” and states that the “government must take responsibility for its inaction in dealing with the widespread violation of the lese majeste laws.” He adds that PAD will become involved if the “government proved incompetent or was inactive in dealing with the issue.”

The reporter asks: “Will the PAD rally to oust the government if it does nothing to deal with people who want to pursue an anti-monarchy stance?” Chamlong replies that the threat to the monarchy must be dealt with, saying that the government “just cannot let these people get away.” The Democrat Party government is warned.

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