While Thailand’s government has come under fire for its handling of the floods crisis, the Thai military’s relief efforts have restored its reputation, analysts say — and boosted its political clout.
The army has dedicated huge resources to helping Thais cope with the country’s worst floods in decades: 55,000 soldiers on the ground, 5,000 vehicles clearing paths through flooded roads and 3,000 boats.
In so doing, the soldiers have quietly repaired an image battered by a crackdown on political protests in Bangkok last year that ended in bloodshed.
Thai Army Commander-in-Chief General Prayut Chan-o-Cha has even spoken in notably conciliatory language in recent weeks in what — after years of sometimes violent political struggles — remains a deeply divided country.
“In the current situation everyone must unify to fight,” he said this week.
While the government of new Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is now being openly criticized for its management of the floods, the army is on the receiving end of an avalanche of compliments.
On a Facebook page set up a month ago to say “thank you” to the army, more than 70,000 followers have posted photos and heaped praise on the military for its help.
“I think there is a lot of propaganda around and somehow the propaganda is quite effective, people begin to see a better side of the military,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thailand expert at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, agreed the army chief had played a clever hand.
“He knew that this crisis would weaken Yingluck’s government and the best thing to do was to give a helping hand and stay out of it,” he said.
Thailand’s generals have a long record of intervening in politics. There have been 18 actual or attempted coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
The last came in 2006 and deposed Yingluck’s brother former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile, but still enjoys strong support among the rural poor in northern Thailand.
Thailand has endured five years of clashes since then — both -political and in the streets — -between the her brother’s supporters and the Bangkok elites, who have power bases in the military, bureaucracy and judiciary, and who despise him.
As many as 100,000 pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts” occupied central Bangkok for two months last year to demand the resignation of the Democrat party government. In May that year the army moved in to end the demonstrations and in total, the two-month crisis left more than 90 people dead.
Relations between the army and Yingluck’s government are unsurprisingly tense, but analysts point out that army chief Prayut publicly rejected opposition calls for a state of emergency, which would have given him greater powers.
“How the army has come out of it — looking rather well — has somewhat offset, but not erased, the negative perception following the crackdown of April and May 2010,” Thitinan said. “The army has regained some credibility. It gives them political capital to engage in the longer term.”
Paul Chambers, a researcher at Payap University in Chiang Mai, went further, saying the army had been acting increasingly autonomously from the government and was “close to establishing a parallel state” devoted to the monarchy.
“If Prayut is able to appear as the sole source of stability amid intensifying political squabbling, then if the Yingluck government is somehow felled either by the judiciary or censure, he could help to fashion a new government favored by the palace,” Chambers said.
Last week, army expert Wassana Nanuam wrote in the Bangkok Post daily that Prayut’s position had not changed with the floods.
“He does not like the Red Shirts or Thaksin. He is determined to protect the monarchy and lives with the motto: ‘country above all.’ His moves will be worth watching from now on,” she wrote.
Rumors that the government is preparing a prisoner amnesty that would allow Thaksin to return could heat up the debate further.
If the former telecoms tycoon returns to Thailand, Pavin said, the general might find it hard to keep his counsel — and the army’s newly polished reputation could quickly be tarnished.
“The real color of the military is to be a ruthless agency with its own political agenda,” he said.
AT WASHINGTON SUMMIT: The agreement between the US and 14 Pacific nations came half a year after the Solomon Islands struck a security deal with China The Solomon Islands has joined 13 other Pacific nations in signing a wide-reaching US-led partnership agreement, after early indications it would refuse. The 10-point US-Pacific Partnership deal was announced by the White House on Thursday evening, following the first-ever meeting between a US president and the leaders of every major Pacific nation. It includes commitments for increased action on climate change, economic development and security cooperation. Earlier, US President Joe Biden committed more than US$810 million to a new Pacific initiative. “A great deal of the history of our world is going to be written in the Indo-Pacific over the coming years
‘DEVOTED GUARDIANS’: A Chinese foreign affairs official said his nation’s diplomats would not ‘sit and do nothing while our country’s interests are being harmed’ China yesterday signaled no letup in its combative approach to foreign policy in a third term for Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) as leader despite criticism from many Western diplomats that the so-called “wolf warrior” stance has been counterproductive. As relations with the West have soured over issues from trade and human rights to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese diplomats have often been confrontational on the public stage, including on social media, a stridency that some critics see as intended for a domestic audience that nonetheless hurts its foreign ties. “We Chinese will not capitulate. We will not sit and do nothing while
ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER: Most of the escaped gas is methane, the second biggest contributor to climate change and a ‘potent greenhouse gas,’ an oceanographer said Denmark on Tuesday said it believed “deliberate actions” by unknown perpetrators were behind big leaks — which seismologists said followed powerful explosions — in two natural gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. European leaders and experts pointed to possible sabotage amid the energy standoff with Russia provoked by the war in Ukraine. Although filled with gas, neither pipeline is currently supplying it to Europe. “It is the authorities’ clear assessment that these are deliberate actions — not accidents,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said. However, she added that “there is no information indicating who could be behind it.” Frederiksen
LANDING INCIDENT: A plane with 63 passengers was shot at by ‘terrorists’ from an ethnic minority militia, state news reported, although militants denied responsibility Myanmar’s military government accused rebel forces in the eastern state of Kayah of firing at a passenger plane as it was preparing to land on Friday, wounding a passenger who was hit by a bullet that penetrated the fuselage. Rebel groups denied the allegation. Myanmar state television MRTV said the Myanmar National Airlines plane, carrying 63 passengers, was hit as it was about to land in Loikaw, the capital of the eastern state of Kayah, also known as Karenni. It cited junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun as saying the shooting was carried out by “terrorists” belonging to the Karenni National