The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.
Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.
That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.
It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.
Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.
This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.
Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.
If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.