It has been recognized that Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong is flying towards the top. When a military regime is seeking to embed authoritarianism, it often happens that the lure of running things, having lots of power and the chance to acquire great wealth causes aspiring green shirts to take a shot of becoming the next military political “hero.”
Most regimes see upstarts pushing the bigger bosses. For example, Field Marshal Phibun had to watch out for not only royalists but also for General Sarit Thanarat and Pol Gen Phao Sriyanon. General Prem Tinsulanonda had the palace on side, but had to see off “Young Turks” uppity generals like Arthit Kamlang-ek.
Now it is General Apirat’s chance.
The Bangkok Post has been reporting on Lt Gen Apirat rather too consistently than his bosses might like. The latest has him arranging for the “governors of 21 provinces in the Central Plain [to]… team up with officers from the 1st Army to gather views of people in their provinces on national reconciliation as the government expands its push for forging unity upcountry.”
“People” has an odd, junta-friendly, definition, generally meaning “groups” like bureaucrats, academics and business people. The lower rungs of society only rarely get defined as “people” worthy of having “views.”
To kick off the (real) people-free “reconciliation” PR exercise, “governors were invited to have a talk with 1st Army commander Apirat Kongsompong on Friday…”. Somewhat garbled, the report goes on to write of “their joint move” in a “meeting of the chiefs of all units under the 1st Army and representatives from the Internal Security Operations Command.”
It all sounds rather like something arranged in the 1970s about counterinsurgency. Back then, the governors were the key link between the military and civilian bureaucrats. The arrangement meant the military dominated civilian administration.
Lt Gen Apirat has a similar view today, saying “the governors will be the ‘key men’ in this initial stage to gather useful opinions from people from all walks of life.” As it was several decades ago, it is the “military chiefs [who] will serve as supporters and coordinators to invite target groups to air their views at the roundtable meetings…”. And they will have to listen and learn to junta propaganda.
Which groups? They will be “local politicians, scholars, state officials and business persons in the provinces and community leaders and non-governmental organisations.” The real people still can’t be trusted.
The report states that they “will be encouraged to talk on 10 topics, set by the panel appointed to work on a process to restore national unity, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon…”. That is, the selected “trainees” will “discuss” only junta-approved stuff.
In case readers wondered, “national unity” was destroyed by Thaksin Shinawatra being a “divisive” figure. The military is not “divisive” despite its penchant for gunning down protesters.
Lt Gen Apirat declared that he wanted “all participants to adopt impartial attitudes…”. We doubt he understands the meaning of “impartial.”
He also “revealed” that there was an extra topic: “referring to a question raised by [The Dictator] … who wants to know how all parties view the ongoing problems facing the country and how they can help solve them bringing back a peaceful atmosphere.”
Um. Ah. Huh? The other issues in a reconciliation meeting don’t to this? Yes, we get it, Apirat is posterior polishing. When making a run for the top, ensure that current incumbents don’t feel they are in trouble or being destabilized. Butter them up and appear “loyal.”
All this faux “opinion gathering” at the provincial level has “to be completed within this month.” We guess that the military already has the required “opinions” on its lists.
These “opinions” will be processed by – you guessed it – the military: “Once the governors finish their work, the opinions will be sent to a sub-panel led by permanent secretary for defence, [General] Chaicharn Changmongkol.”
This might be good PR for the junta. It is also keeping Apirat in the limelight, where he prefers to be.