April 12, 2014 00:00 By Panya Thiosangwan, Jeerapong
Top brass pay their respects to Privy Council chief for Songkran without Yingluck attending this year
Caretaker Prime Minister and Defence Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was absent yesterday from a gathering to pay their respects to Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, leaving only commanders of the Armed Forces with him.
Supreme Commander General Tanasak Patimapragorn led Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong, Navy Commander Admiral Narong Pipatanasai and National Police Chief Adul Saengsingkaew to pay their respects to Prem as per the New Year tradition at Songkran.
Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha was also present at the event, as president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand.
Prem thanked the commanders for their gestures although the former commander retired from the Army more than three decades ago.
“It is good to see all three of the Armed Forces’ commanders and police chief come to me every year. This shows we all have friendship and I have the Armed Forces as good friends,” he said. “I feel comfortable to see the unity among us.
“If we unite, the country will be secure. The Armed Forces would have power over those who have bad plans to hurt our nation,” Prem said.
“As His Majesty the King said many times, we have to perform our duty with honour. We also have to look at our people to have them perform their duties honestly. “General Tanasak plus the military and police commanders have many hard tasks to achieve these days. If we unite and do our jobs and have our men to do their jobs as well, people can rely on us, so that people will love, respect and trust the military and police,” Prem said.
Meeting with the top adviser to His Majesty the King is interpreted as a political signal to show that General Prem retains high influence over the Armed Forces. Prem’s support for any groups would be significant for political developments in the Kingdom.
At an Army event on Thursday, Prem said he would not be able to mediate negotiations between Yingluck and Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Prem said the two sides would not listen to him.
Usually the defence minister leads the commanders to pay respect to Prem to show that the government has good ties to him. Yingluck currently holds the Defence portfolio.
She did not respond when she was asked on Thursday if she would lead commanders to see Prem at Songkran. The caretaker prime minister faces many political and legal challenges because of the prolonged anti-government protests concentrated in Bangkok and will spend her time over the holiday break quietly in Chiang Mai, her home province. She may not appear to celebrate the festival in public as usual this year, a source said.
Defence Ministry permanent secretary Nipat Thonglek did not attend the commanders’ gathering at Prem’s residence yesterday.
A military source said Supreme Commander Tanasak had asked the Defence Ministry if Yingluck would lead the commanders to see Prem, but she made no clear instruction this year. Tanasak later decided to lead the commanders to see Prem on his own, the source said.
Meeting with Prem requires a formal letter for an appointment in advance, of at least three days up to a week, the source said.
However, the Privy Council chief did not say anything about the absence of the prime minister, according to the source close to the meeting yesterday, who suggested the gathering had no political agenda.
In 2012, Yingluck visited Prem on the occasion of Songkran. Last year Prem did not open his home for such greetings.
During the New Year, Yingluck led the military top brass to greet Prem for that occasion. Earlier, in August, Yingluck greeted Prem on his 94th birthday.
Separately, at the Royal Thai Army headquarters, Prayuth said he hoped the political situation would get better after the traditional Songkran events, which let people make merit and pay respect to their seniors. But he said all sides of society should join together to help restore peace and order for the country.
Nevertheless, he vowed not to allow violence, which some expect amid rising political tension after Songkran.