Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Re-emergence of General Manoonkrit

The Nation:

An ex-Democrat Manoonkrit Roopkachorn is about to team up with the Thaksin camp. The Senate is about to embark on a government bashing over public debt. And a large number of MPs and senators are about to face legal hurdles over the equity rules.

For Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the situation may be worrisome indeed. But none of the issues confronting him are sufficiently lethal to cause an early collapse of his government.

At the very top of the list for trickery is the planned political marriage between Manoonkrit and ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Manoonkrit is reportedly poised to finalise his decision to adopt the banner of the Pheu Thai Party. He is tipped to assume the party leadership under puppeteer Thaksin.

Throughout his enigmatic career, Manoonkrit has presented different faces to different people. Though he is seen as a democracy advocate, he was a notorious coup plotter involved in a series of failed and successful power seizures.

He is a retired soldier with an unblemished record for valour in serving the monarchy. But at one time he was suspected of involvement in an assassination plot against the Royal Family, even though he has been vindicated.

He proclaimed he abhorred partisan politics. Yet he made an about-turn to pledge allegiance to the Democrat Party before parting ways last year because the oldest political party decided to lead the coalition instead of forcing a snap election.

Based on protege-mentor ties as fellow cavalry officers, he is seen as the son chief royal adviser Prem Tinsulanonda never had.

It is generally understood Thaksin sees Prem as his archenemy. The plot thickens when Manoonkrit is drifting closer to the Thaksin camp.

If judged on personalities, Thaksin and Manoonkrit have absolutely no chemistry to work together. A hard-headed puppet and an autocratic puppeteer are odd bedfellows.

Ah, the intrigue continues. General Manoon is a former coup plotter during the eighties. He was colonel who unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Prem in 1985.

Here is a backgrounder on General Manoon and the 1985 coup:

In September 1985, Prem was challenged by a coup attempt by Manoon Rupekachorn, a cashiered colonel and a leader of the Young Turks. Manoon timed the coup superbly: Prem was on a visit to Indonesia, Arthit was in Europe, and the Royal family was touring in the south. The coup attempt was extraordinary in that it was led by an ex-colonel. Manoon was easily defeated by Suchinda's group after a short battle.[101]

This coup is interesting, however, because it highlights the complexity of military politics. The details of the coup were not satisfactorily clarified in the subsequent trial of the alleged plotters which included former Prime Minister Kriangsak, former Supreme Commander Serm Na Nakorn, and the Air Force Chief Praphan Dhupatemiya. None of the key plotters was sentenced and all the defendants, including Manoon, in quite typical fashion, were granted parliamentary amnesty by the Chatichai government in 1988.[102]

The Manoon coup is thus, like Indonesia's Gestapu, still shrouded in mystery. In particular, there is the question of how Manoon, who was cashiered in 1981 and was exiled abroad until the coup attempt, was able to carry out a complex military operation. The involvement of Ekkayudh Anchanbutr, a wealthy businessman, remains intriguing. Ekkayudh operated a five billion baht pyramid scheme, along with Mae Chamoi, properly known as Chamoi Thipso, the wife of an Air Force officer. The beneficiaries of this scheme were mainly military officials and their families, including the alleged coup plotters.[103]

Mae Chamoi enjoyed the support of top military officers, including Arthit, members of the royal entourage,[104] and Kittivutho Bhikku, a powerful ultra-rightist monk.[105]

One month before the coup, the government moved to ban the pyramid scheme established by Ekkayudh and Chamoi. The latter was formally charged with fraud. Although no link has been established between actions of Mae Chamoi and Manoon's coup, it must be noted that the government's crackdown on the pyramid scheme angered many members of the military and left them feeling ill-disposed towards Prem

Here are the footnotes:

[101] About a dozen people were killed in the ill-fated 1985 coup attempt, mostly non-combatants, including two foreign journalists. For accounts of the coup attempt, see "Battle for Bangkok", Asia-week, 20 September 1985; "Manoon's Wild Gamble", FEER (19 September 1985), pp. 14-15; "Anger and Punishment", FEER (26 September, 1985), pp. 19-20; "The Coup's Who's Who", FEER (24 October 1985), p. 48.

[102] Journalists and scholars were informed by the government that there would be serious repercussions if further inquires were made concerning the trials of those accused in the 1985 coup attempt. This information was obtained and confirmed during interviews in March-April 1993 with the following people: Anusorn Thavassin (editor); Singhadej Pengrai (businessman), Damnoen Garden (lawyer); Kanit Wanakamol (civil servant); Kamsing Srinawk (writer); Sulak Sivaraksa (writer); Kusuma Snitwongse (academic); Suchit Bunbongkarn (academic); Chai-Anan Samudavanija (academic); Maheson Kasemsant (former General), and Bangkok-based correspondents for Asiaweek and the Far Eastern Economic Review.

[103] The Mae Chamoi fund offered an annual 78 percent dividend, and claimed to be based on an "oil importing" scheme. For accounts of the fund, see "The Pyramid Chits", FEER (20 September 1984), pp. 54-55; "Crumbling Pyramids", FEER (25 April 1985), p. 120; "High-risk Re-Financing", FEER (16 May 1985), p. 81; "The Lady Reappears", FEER (27 June 1985), p. 92.

[104] The "Mae Chamoi" affair was a national event and there was considerable speculation about who was protecting her. I was living in Chiangmai at the time, and the "Mae Chamoi" affair was an enormous media event. It was talked about everywhere, by almost everyone. Also see, "Arthit Beats the Retreat", FEER (22 November 1984), pp. 14-17.

[105] Kittivutho preached that it was not a demerit to kill communists. An account of Kittivutho is given in Charles F. Keyes, "Political Crisis and Militant Buddhism in Contemporary Thailand", in Bardwell Smith, ed., Religion and the Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Burma and Laos (Chambers-burg, Pa.: Wilson Books, 1977), pp. 147-164.

You can read the entire article on the Thai military and politics here.

Thanks to a reader, the author of the paper is Chao-Tzang Yawnghwe.

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