What Does The Command Shuffle Mean?

After a few days of silence prime minister Abhisit went on air again in a televised public address on Friday evening and announced that Thai army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda would be put in charge of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations (CERS), thus replacing deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban as head of the operation.

This move certainly caused many to question what the government’s next move in handling with the red shirts would be. Observers agree that Abhisit wants to put more pressure on the red shirts but also on his ‘own’ (it’s never really sure who is in command of whom) peers. After the failed crackdown of last week and the hilariously botched arrest attempt on Friday, the blame could have been put on Suthep as Bangkok Pundit points out. But just a day following the announcement of his demotion, the government went out to clarify that Suthep isn’t really out of CERS.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban is still in charge as the head of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations, CRES spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd affirmed on Saturday afternoon.

Army chief Anupong Paojinda was authorized by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to take charge only in ordering the use of forces to ensure peace and order in case of necessity, Col Sansern stated.

The authorisation was aimed at cutting short of the command line to prevent and encounter with the terrorists trying to incite violence, he added.

Mr Suthep, who is in charge of security affairs, will be the person to set up policy, oversee operation plans and beheld responsible for the CRES achievement, the CRES spokesman said.

Suthep still controls the CRES“, Bangkok Post, April 17, 2010

Basically it says Anupong has the last word over troop movement and deployment.

But why would Abhisit then put somebody in charge who allegedly hinted the current government to dissolve parliament? Bangkok Pundit again…

(…) Abhisit is putting the pressure on Anupong to do something. Anupong appears reluctant so putting him directly in charge, Abhisit is setting him up as the fall guy if nothing happens or it all turns to custard.

Thai army chief given control to restore order“, Bangkok Pundit, April 17, 2010

There are some media reports that hint Anupong himself did not of his own ‘promotion’ until the very last minute.

Some in the Thai-language press are interpreting this appointment as a surprise move to force Anupong to take responsibility for action for carrying out government orders regarding security. Apparently, this is the Red Shirts’ position as well–that the appointment was a surprise. Considering how closely the government and military have coordinated their activities so far, the Red Shirt interpretation seems unlikely.

Botched raid and Anupong steps forward“, 2bangkok.com, April 17, 2010

It will be interesting to see how Anupong will handle himself and disperseĀ the protests, given he has been reported to be reluctant to follow order for a crackdown. There are two things to consider: First, if the military is in favor of new elections they would have to happen after the annual budget and the reshuffle of key figures in police and military. Second, Anupong is likely to retire soon and will certainly not be linked to a(nother) potential massacre against the own people.

Additionally, the prime minister has assured that a crackdown against the red shirts has not been planned (yet!). On the other hand I really question how long this can carry on? This is not a situation that can contain itself for a long period, especially other protagonists blending in (the alleged ‘third force’ in the violent clashes) or threaten to take things into their own hand. Also, will the army follow suit and can stay unified?

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