In earlier posts (here and here), PPT commented on the questions asked of 2006 coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin about who was behind the military’s seizure of power and trashing of the 1997 constitution, planning it and urging it. The following post is a bit convoluted, but this is because the current discussion of the coup is meant to obfuscate.
Of course, if one were to read the Wikileaks cables PPT has been posting, it becomes pretty clear that there were a bunch of academics, human rights “activists,” and members of the elite wanting a coup. And, as we noted in one of those earlier posts, those asking these questions now should have watched Prem, listened to the coup plotters themselves and even read Wikileaks.
The one Wikileaks “voice” that repeatedly saying there would be no coup was the military. But no one should ever believe them. That said, reading between the lines, it was also clear that Sonthi was clearing the decks for action against Thaksin Shinawatra.
Notably, also, Thai Rak Thai Party strategy advisers seemed unable to conceive of Sonthi carrying out a coup. Certainly, they seemed to underestimate his capacity for rebellion, whether of his own volition or prompted by Prem or others in the palace.
The current question is whether Sonthi was ordered by higher-ups to act against the Thaksin government. Most assume that Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda had pushed General Sonthi into the 19 September 2006 coup. Others talk about the queen’s role.
What is the purpose of this discussion now? As ever, some royalist cynics think that both Major-General Sanan Kachornprasart and Sonthi are in the pay of Thaksin Shinawatra. Both are seen, at The Nation, denying this. Sonthi said “he wanted to rectify the damage caused by the coup, not rescue Thaksin…”, while Sanan says “he wanted to clear up any misunderstandings and was not acting on Thaksin’s behalf to take revenge on Sonthi.”
If the latter were the case, the idea would be to dump all the blame for the putsch on Sonthi alone. That seems unlikely to us, and PPT looking at the issue cynically would point out that blaming Sonthi would whitewash the palace and Prem.
It seems to PPT that the current questioning could be about a range of political maneuvering, most of it associated with the palace’s political role. It could be designed to clean up some of the post-coup mess that has been sheeted home to Prem’s meddling in politics from his position inside the palace. This could be at Thaksin’s urging, as part of his determination to get back on-side with the monarchy and monarchists that seems to hate him. It could also reflect a desire on the part of some in the palace to sideline Prem as succession draws ever closer, by hoping that his role in the coup will be further spotlighted.
What we might do, rather than join conspiracies, is just look at what’s being said and see where that takes us.
At The Nation, we hear that General Banchorn Chawalsilp has been joining in, saying that “Prem instructed his former aide General Mongkol Ampornpisit to tell Sonthi to outline the truth behind the coup…”.
As a note on this, Banchorn is seen as having been close to General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, which should not have him rushing to Prem’s side.
But do Banchorn or royalists or even Thaksin really want the truth behind the coup? The truth? They can’t handle the truth. Notice that Jack Nicholson is in military uniform, ranting about honor and protecting all that is good. It seems to fit very well. Royalists don’t want the truth because it would reveal royalists like Prem manipulating politics. It may reveal more than the smoke and mirrors that are the hallmark of the palace’s political interferences.
Banchorn tells us that “Prem was concerned that he was being perceived as the mastermind behind the coup…”. Of course he was concerned, for this connection was very obvious, seen in his donning of military uniform as he traipsed around military bases, privy counselors in tow, demanding loyalty to the throne and not the government. Of course he was preparing the ground for a coup.
The current claim seems to be that Prem urged Sonthi to “reveal” a “truth” as if the “truth” will somehow and miraculously exonerate Prem of any responsibility. The problem for Prem is the public record of his actions against the Thaksin government.
Why “clear” Prem of responsibility? One reason could be simply because cleansing his record is believed by some royalists to be important in buffing the propaganda that the palace is “above politics.”
The report in The Nation could easily be seen as a part of this process, stating as it does: “After taking over as junta leader, Sonthi projected himself as a royalist and tried to justify the coup as a move to safeguard the monarchy.” And, at another place it reinforces this point:
Sanan said he had no ill intentions towards Sonthi, but wanted the public to learn the truth about the coup. Over the past five years, Sonthi has been deflecting the blame on others and the coup remains a mystery, he said, arguing that fences could not be mended if people were misled to believe that Prem was behind it all.
The implication is that Sonthi “used” the monarchy. PPT even begins to feel a bit of sympathy for the not-so-bright Sonthi, who was used for palace and elite purposes in 2006 and is now to be the palace’s fall guy again. We wonder if he’s prepared to do that?
Maybe he is, for the report states that “Sonthi initially refused to shed any light on the issue, though he subsequently conceded that Prem was not involved in the coup.”
But maybe not forever:
Sonthi reportedly completed writing six books, including his biography, before he entered politics [PPT guesses that The Nation considers running a coup isn't about politics...] as leader of the Matubhum Party last year. It is believed that these books will be published after his death to avoid unintended repercussions on leading figures.
Sanan is also seeking more on this, when he asks about the infamous “royal audience that Sonthi received on September 19, 2006 – the night of the coup.” Sanan says that many:
believed that Prem summoned Sonthi to see the King, hence Sonthi should clarify this meeting because Prem was seen arriving at the Palace after arrangements for the royal audience had been completed.
Would this, in the age of mobile phones and so much other public information, exonerate Prem. Absolutely not. However, the reading could be that someone else in the palace invited the respectful and loyal generals to the palace for a meeting that Sonthi has commented on at Wikileaks, in discussion with U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce:
I began by asking Sonthi about the audience with the King last night. Who had attended? He said Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda had brought him, Supreme Commander Ruangroj and Navy Commander Sathiraphan in to meet the King. Sonthi stressed that they had been summoned to the palace; he had not sought the audience. He said the King was relaxed and happy, smiling throughout. He provided no further details.
In the same cable, Boyce explains that this audience was important: ” Sonthi was relaxed and calm. Clearly the royal audience was the turning point last night.”
If nothing else, perhaps we can observe that the beneficiaries of this new discussion may not be those who began it, for the story of the coup is something that has many players and manipulators at work.