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Thailand’s military, government in sync
Prime minister needs to keep army on his side
Since the quelling of the Red Shirt pro-democracy protests in May, Thailand has witnessed a show of unity between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose legitimacy in office has been questioned, and the military, a key player in the government’s stability.
Local media - especially those controlled by the military - have spotlighted the government’s leadership and the military’s efforts to restore peace during and after the protests, while contrary views of the crackdown on the Red Shirts have been censored.
Meanwhile, Mr. Abhisit has approved a controversial defense budget and declined to investigate complaints of mismanaged military expenditures, as several army leaders are expected to be promoted, at least partly for their performance in quashing the Red Shirt rebellion.
Mr. Abhisit can ill afford a disgruntled military, which overthrew this Buddhist-majority country’s thrice-elected prime minister - Thaksin Shinawatra - in 2006 and has conducted or attempted 18 coups since the 1930s whenever it has deemed such action necessary.
Mr. Thaksin’s ouster, in part, sparked the Red Shirt demonstrations in downtown Bangkok this spring, which the U.S.-trained army put down with snipers, assault rifles and armored personnel carriers. As many as 90 people were killed and 1,900 injured during the nine-week showdown.
“Since the army is the only tool the Abhisit government has against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the Red Shirts, there is no question it has to keep the military happy,” the English-language Bangkok Post reported this month.
Among the military leaders awaiting promotion is Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is expected to succeed Gen. Anupong Paochinda as army commander in chief after the latter retires Oct. 1. Mr. Abhisit and Gen. Anupong reportedly have agreed to the change of command.
Colleagues and Thai military analysts regard Gen. Prayuth, 56, as a more hawkish commander than Gen. Anupong, who is said to have been reluctant to use heavy firepower against the Red Shirts’ barricades because he wanted to retire without his countrymen’s blood on his hands. Gen. Anupong and other top generals overthrew Thaksin in a bloodless coup.
“If Gen. Prayuth does get his promotion, it will be seen as reward for his service during the latest campaign against the Red Shirts, aside from the fact that the deputy army chief is actually in line to succeed Gen. Anupong,” the Bangkok Post reported on July 15.
At least five other top military leaders also are expected to be promoted, including Deputy Chief of Staff Dapong Ratanasuwan, who is considered the strategic planner of the army’s operation to contain the Red Shirt rebellion.
Thailand's military wields a lucrative and influential media arm, owning more than 200 radio frequencies, a TV station and a TV channel’s concession.
During the crackdown against the Red Shirts in April and May, grim-faced uniformed officers frequently appeared on TV to speak to the public, prompting some to question why Mr. Abhisit was not more visible.
The prime minister also was criticized for sheltering inside a military base in Bangkok for several weeks during the Reds’ insurrection, eating and sleeping near Gen. Anupong’s office, apparently fearing assassination.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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