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Thailand: All the King’s horses and all the King’s men

Updated On: Jul 18, 2006

In response to the assassination threats on Thaksin’s life and escalating political tensions, Privy Council chairman Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda has firmly declared what the military’s stand should be at a lecture in Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.

Using an analogy of racing horses, Gen. Prem said, “Horse owners hire jockeys to ride the horses. The jockeys do not own the horses. They just ride them… A government is like a jockey. It supervises soldiers, but the real owners are the country and the King. The government supervises and employs us in compliance with the policy declared to parliament.”

Prem urged the cadets to be a “career” and “professional” soldier who “reveres the institutions of the army, nation and monarchy”. Soldiers should also be honest and self- sacrificing, and eschew politics. He added, “Every soldier should understand and distinguish the military's stance, the government's position and his service to King and country… Some governments are good, some bad, but soldiers have to serve long-term goals, not short-term gain.”

Gen. Prem’s statement comes simultaneously at a time when Gen. Ruenroj Mahasaranont, supreme commander of the Thai armed forces stressed that the military must keep an eye on the situation so as to be able to execute their duty to uphold social order.

What can we read from these statements? Perhaps signs of “restlessness” from the Thai military and caution or warning from General Prem to the military not to be drawn into the political fray.  While Gen. Prem may no longer be in the military, he is well respected and his words will probably still be heeded.  He is also favoured by the king and enjoys general popularity with the Thai public.

As the Thai drama unfolds and the Constitutional court reluctantly takes on the hearing pf the electoral fraud case involving the two major parties – Thai Rak Thai and the Democrat Party, there is no telling how the military will step if political uncertainty persisted and intensified.  For the moment, there is assurance that there will not be a military coup, but that the military only wishes to help harmonize stability, according to Interior Minister Kongsak Wanthana.  But speculations continue as the military remains the wild card in this long-drawn political game.

Sources:

Poll: Prem was the best PM (Bangkok Post, 17 July 2006)

Military 'must back King' (The Nation, 15 July 2006)

Troops 'belong to King' (Bangkok Post, 15 July 2006)

Thai military has “duty to keep social order” (Straits Times, 15 July 2006)

Ex-PM who has King’s ear (Straits Times, 15 July 2006)

ACM Kongsak believes Thai military will not stage a revolution during the current political crisis (Thainews.com, 11 July 2006)