Thursday, November 10, 2011

Role of Army in New Thai Government

The Thai Army chief's statement about the military's feeling has led to an understanding and sympathy for everything it has done for the nation, religion, the Monarchy and the people. It has devoted to working for public interest over its own and yet has been subject to criticisms over its tasks that involved politics since they have affected the wrangle between rival political parties. The top military leader, therefore, has had to come out to comfort his subordinates.
Decentralizing Power
The Armed Forces will have to get back to their work anyhow as they are so obliged by the Constitution. As they are seen as a main condition for the survival of the government, politicians do not trust them and have to try to rein in their power. Therefore, they have to check and balance structures of command and personnel of the Armed Forces so as to decentralize the power from the old clique of officers in charge, especially the Burapha Phayak faction which has been enjoying its dominance during the past three years.
The post of defense minister is the first mechanism that the political branch will use to counter the power of incumbent military commanders. Although the minister cannot play a significant role in preventing and prewarning a coup, he as access to high-level information from the Defense Council's meetings on the reshuffle of military top brass in key commanding posts.
Preventing Political Intervention
Despite speculations that the Phuea Thai Party is planning vengeance on certain Armed Forces commanders and kick them out of power, it will not be easy to do so. Existing mechanisms on reshuffling senior military officers at the level of general are designed to prevent political intervention. However, if the political branch manages to put its people to the top posts of the Armed Forces during a routine shake-up, they can later vote to bring in their men in future reshuffles.
It is common for Army Commander-in-Chief General Prayut Chan-ocha to spell out his stand on that the new defense minister must be versed with military affairs, including the Thai-Cambodia border conflict and the unrest situation in the southern border provinces besides being acceptable to the Armed Forces. This is like the military's recommendation to the new government for its selection of the defense minister.
It might look like the military has no choice but give in to conditions set by ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It seems to have nothing to bargain as Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra is becoming the country's first woman prime minister after the Phuea Thai Party won a landslide victory in the recent election and is also enjoying support from other coalition parties. But opening the door for the political branch to have a say in the nomination of the defense minister could also be seen as collusion to allow the person backed by the Armed Forces to take the defense minister post so that incumbent military top brass will remain in power.
Many military figures who have slipped out of the power circle are hoping to make use of the political situation to make a comeback as they know that the political branch's need for a power balance with the Armed Forces will challenge the power hierarchy laid down by the dominant military clique.
Trading and Bargaining With Military
The military leaders' move on the new defense minister is interesting in the way that it reflects the political branch's awkward attempt to tie its dealing with the Armed Forces to national reconciliation. As a matter of fact, it is all about trading and bargaining with the military. The political branch has an advantage in terms of righteousness, image and public support while the Armed Forces will only be subject to attacks once they express their views. They are at disadvantage as they are seen by the society as having to stay out of politics since they are government officials.
Game of Politicians
Anyway, a move by the military still holds some significance as it can be used as deterrence t o politicians prone to tyrannous governing. But it has to stop and step back to an appropriate distance once the point is made.
The political branch can exploit this to slip its people in as defense minister and Armed Forces commanders. But if the military becomes the first to initiate bargaining, it will ruin its own image in addition to playing into the game of politicians who could exploit the situation for even greater bargaining.

No comments: