“It will be a long time for another person with the charisma and respect that Prem enjoyed to rise, if Prem did not appoint his successor.”
by Jintana Panyaarvudh
Academics believe the death of statesman and former PM Prem Tinsulanonda could bring about a new and more open political era – a shift away from “Thai-style” democracy and military domination.
Prem, one of the country’s most influential political figures for more than four decades. He served as Army commander, PM and adviser to the Royal Palace. General Prem died at the age of 98 yesterday morning.
After the Thammasat University massacre on October 6, 1976, Prem became a central “political influencer” and as one of the founders of “semi-democracy” in Thai politics, which has continued until current times as “Thai-style” democracy, Stithorn Thananithichot, a political scientist from King Prajadhipok’s Institute said.
Although during some periods, Thai politics was a true democracy, it has reverted to a “backward democracy”, especially with the current Constitution, he said.
Without contesting a general election or joining a political party, Prem held the PM’s post with the backing of political parties from 1980 to 1988.
Prem left politics and later was appointed a privy councillor and a statesman in 1988 but his charisma and influence continued over Thai politics.
“He was a symbol. You can see why every prime minister and Armed Forces commander had to pay their respects to him on special occasions,” he added.
Stithorn referred to then-premier Thaksin Shinwatra, whose party Thai Rak Thai had won a majority of 375 MP seats in the 2005 election, deciding to dissolve the House in 2006 after a meeting with Prem. At that time, Thaksin was under siege from yellow-shirt protesters.
In his view, Prem was the person who served as the bridge or balance between the conservatives or the establishment and liberal democracy.
Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University, said Prem’s influence and significant role in the military had helped society and people endorsed the role of military in Thai politics.
“Prem represented a ‘good general’. His charisma helped convince people to respect or believe in what he said,” Titipol said.
With Prem’s passing, from now on, military and junta chief and PM Prayut Chan-ocha would not have that endorsement any more and that could lessen their credibility, he added.
He said although the military now would be able to consolidate power in Parliament as the pro-junta bloc appears likely to form the next government, several processes leading to the progress of democracy are taking place as well.
“The military-linked government would be scrutinised as the opposition party is quite strong in Parliament, while people would be more open to new voices or the real philosophy of true democracy,” Titipol said.
However, Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, sees no political implications for politics, as Prem’s connection, or the so-called “Look Pa” or Prem’s son, are currently not a major player in the society.
For example, the Democrat Party, the political party seen as closest to Prem and the main party that supported Prem during his premiership, is not a key player in politics anymore, the analyst said.
Analysts agreed that it would be difficult to find a man who has such charisma and respect to replace him and play his role. Yuttaporn said it is not easy in the modern era that a most influential person like the late prime minister would rise to fame and be as well-respected as him, as society now has diversity in power.
“Society has evolved. The new generation has its own ideology. I think the tradition of respecting or clinging to a sole senior person would be in gradual decline,” said Yuthaporn.
“It will be a long time for another person with the charisma and respect that Prem enjoyed to rise, if he did not appoint his successor,” Stithorn said.
If there is any concern during the transition period it could be the relationship inside the military, he added.
As in the past, Prem helped keep the balance of power and relationship of two big factions in the Royal Thai Armed Forces that have dominated the Army for several years. The two are the Burapha Payak royalist military faction – known as the “Eastern Tigers” that propelled junta chief General Prayut to power, and Wong Tewan, or military officers in the 11th Infantry Regiment King’s Guard, known as the “Raab 11”.
“I don’t know if Prayut or Prawit Wongsuwan, the defence minister can balance the power. If not, a well-respected person like Prem might be needed,” he added.
SOURCE: The Nation
Prem Tinsulanonda, an enduring symbol of grace and power, died yesterday at the age of 98
Surachate won’t be returning to Royal Thai Police
Thailand’s deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwon has dissed rumours that former Immigration chief Surachate Hakparn is poised for a return to the Royal Thai Police.
Read The Thaiger’s weekend story HERE.
Over the weekend Thai media reported that the former high-profile policeman and eventual Immigration Chief, was set for a sensational return and was about to be appointed to a senior position with the police force.
But the deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters yesterday that “Big Joke” will “not be returning to the police and that his career in the police force is over”.
And that, apparently, is THAT!
In April, Surachate was abruptly side-lined from his post as immigration chief and transferred to an inactive post at the RTP HQ in Bangkok and later a civilian role as a ‘special adviser’ within the PMs Office.
At this stage there has still been no further details from either the RTP or Surachate about what led to his demotion and removal from his high-profile post. Surachate was smithed on the weekend in Thailand’s south with a contingent of police giving rise to the rumour that he may be set for a return to Thai crime-fighting.
Miracle at Tham Luang – The Thailand cave drama unfolds, a year on
On June 23, a year ago, only a few northern Thai locals and serious cave enthusiasts knew much about the Tham Luang Caves in Mae Sai district, about an hour’s drive from Chiang Rai.
But on that sunny afternoon, following their regular football practice, a group of 12 players and their coach, decided to have a quick excursion to the local caves. At the time it was only going to be a quick hour of exploring the caves before heading home. It didn’t quite go as planned.
Head coach for the team, Nopparat Khanthawong, turned on his phone at 7pm that night to find more than 20 missed calls from concerned parents asking where their children were.
The next morning police found the young men’s bikes, bags and a few sets of shoes at the mouth of the cave. A deluge overnight had trapped the exploring team inside. It was clear to the authorities that they were unable to get inside the flooded cave. Were the team still alive? How could they get them out?
Over the next two to three weeks a massive international rescue team would amass at the caves in a mission to figure out how to get the team out. Heavy machinery was flown in, caving experts summoned, Thai Navy Seals donned scuba gear, a long way from Thailand’s coast they were trained to protect.
The Mu Pa (Wild Boar) football team were all aged between 11 and 16 years of age. The assistant coach Ekkaphon Chanthawong was 25 years of age. It would be another ten days before the outside world even knew if the team had survived the flooding of the cave.
The search for the team was an international news hit. As the Thai government called in expertise from around the world, an international media contingent also streamed into the muddy surrounds of the cave where a makeshift tent town was being constructed to handle the feeding and sanitation needs for the throngs of international assistants.
Local villagers jumped to action bringing food daily and providing lodgings to the to hundreds of people.
On day ten the 13 team members were finally found. UK divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen were making another exploratory dive, as part of an international team of expert cave divers which had by now made several missions into the muddy waters. The team were found on a sandy ledge some 4 kilometres inside the Tham Luang Cave system.
But finding the Mu Pa team was the easy part compared with what was to follow.
None of the boys were competent swimmers, in fact most of them couldn’t swim at all. Rescuers looked for access from above the caves in hopes of drilling down to rescue the team. As the days passed messages were passed on from the boys via divers to their parents. Food was brought in. It was even mooted that the team could ‘live’ in the caves for up to four months and wait out the wet-season and the flooding waters to subside.
At the end of the second week though the situation became more urgent as heavy rains threatened and it was feared the waters would continue rising and drown the team. They needed to get them out, now.
Whilst putting the young men in wetsuits and diving gear and swimming them out one by one was considered, it was fraught with danger because of their complete lack of experience and the risk of panic whilst crawling through the narrow underwater sections. Divers, who had been through the narrow, flooded chambers a number of times, said it was a major challenge for them, despite their years of experience.
At this stage two Australian cave divers, Richard Harris and Craig Challen who were also medical professionals, came up with an outrageous plan.
They would sedate the team, put them on stretchers, and bring each of them out with a diver steering the stretcher at the front and back. Every few hundreds of metres other divers and medics would be waiting, check on the boys’ vital signs and re-administer the sedation. Everyone had to be trained quickly and the boys informed of what was going to happen. Only one of the team spoke any English.
It was an extremely risky plan but the pressure was on to get the team out before the rains returned. It was decided to go ahead with the dangerous extraction mission.
Between July 8 and 10 all of the young men were rescued from the caves by the cobbled-together international team in three waves.
The entire rescue effort involved over 10,000 people, including over 100 divers, local and international rescue workers, staff from 100 Thai government agencies, 900 police officers and 2,000 soldiers.
Ten police helicopters, seven police ambulances, 700 diving cylinders, and huge pumps removing more than a billion litres of water from the caves, were deployed during the rescue mission.
There was one fatality, Saman Kunan, a 37 year old former Thai Navy SEAL died of asphyxiation on July 6 after delivering supplies of air between chambers in the cave in the days before the team was discovered.
A year later, the Tham Luang Caves have become a major northern tourist attraction. Visitors go there with a fascination to see where the drama of the footballers, their coach, the rescuers, world media and local community unfolded in a totally unexpected drama.
The rising number of tourists persuaded the Department of National Parks to upgrade Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non forest into a new national park. The site now covers 12,000 rai of land. There is a new attraction near the cave mouth showcasing the people, the drama, maps, statistics, photos and a huge 13 metre mural. There is also a statue of Saman “Ja Sam” Kunan, the one fatality from the drama whose bravery reminds visitors of the hundreds who made the plunge into the muddy cave waters to save the team.
And then there was all the unsung heroes like local Rawinmat Lueloet, who offered his laundry’s services free for two weeks to tend to the mud-stained clothes of rescuers. There were so, so many others.
In the wake of the rescue the members of the football team, some who had been ‘stateless’ – living in Thailand without a nationality or passport – have been granted Thai nationality. The team members and Ekkaporn have also made a few trips overseas and will feature in a new series being produced by Netflix at the moment.
The Thaiger put together a very quick edit of some of the milestones of the mission in the frantic two weeks and hope you’ll enjoy reliving some of the amazing memories that started a year ago today.
Surachate Hakparn, your friendly neighbourhood crime-fighter, is back!
…well, according to enthusiastic reports in the Thai media. Thailand’s favourite police poster boy and friendly neighbourhood crime-fighter, Surachate Hakparn, is poised to make a return to the front line. Thai media are reporting that he may be about to be appointed to the post of Assistant Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police.
In April he was side-lined from active duty after a high profile two year career when he was seldom out of the headlines, rounding up illegal immigrants, chasing down scammers and fronting photo opportunities with overstayers. He was ahead of the game when it comes to Thai policing with a team of media minders and an active social media following.
On any one day he could appear in four of five provinces around the country.
He kept remind us that he was acting on the policy of “Good guys in, bad guys out”.
Once heading up the Immigration Bureau, he started to make enemies with his internal crackdown on alleged corruption at the hundreds of immigration outposts around the country. He introduced a ‘no tip’ policy, shuffled entrenched immigration officials to inactive posts and was responsible for the big improvements at airport immigration – adding new cubicles, more staff, improving training and even adding ‘Chinese Tourist Only’ queues to help cope with the surge in Chinese tourism.
But his steady rise to the top was abruptly cut short when he was unceremoniously dumped from his high-profile post and given an unspecified job at the Operation Centre of the Royal Thai Police. The order was signed by the Thai Police Chief Chakthip Chaijinda. Eventually he was posted as an ‘advisor’ in the PMs office in Bangkok.
Read the story about his sudden demotion HERE.
After a month he headed off to the US for a ‘break’ and was conspicuous by his absence ever since. No explanation has ever been forthcoming from either his superiors or Surachate himself about the reasons for his sudden career demise.
Read the story upon his return from the US HERE.
On Thursday, he was photographed visiting a temple in Nakhon Sri Thammarat. Reports of Surachate’s return have been unconfirmed by the government or head of police.
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