General Prayuth keeps walking on the tightrope

opinion March 24, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Army commander has perhaps the toughest job of all and has been attacked by both sides

Not everyone wakes up everyday not wanting to know what Jatuporn Prompan and ASTV have been saying. Army Commander-in-Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha is one of the few. Red shirt leader Jatuporn has pulled no punches with Prayuth, and while opinions on the ASTV channel and website might be less aggressive than Jatuporn’s, they can hurt the general all the same. It’s fair to say that Prayuth is a man torn by both sides of the political conflict.
The red shirts have accused Prayuth of doing everything short of staging a coup in order to undermine the caretaker Yingluck administration. The other side has accused him doing too little. 
The western media obviously do not like him. And Thailand’s pro-government media have never trusted him. To the anti-government media, he’s anything but a hero.
Friday’s Constitution Court decision to invalidate the February 2 general election has not made it any easier for Prayuth. He can be consoled by the thought that if nobody likes you, you probably are doing the right things. 
According to a patriotic song that many soldiers hold to their hearts, the greatest honours may never be acknowledged, but you must strive to get them and never ever doubt your ways. Like every key figure in the Thai political divide, Prayuth’s image may have become too murky to romanticise.  According to one side, the fact that a coup has not happened already after months of massive street protests reflects nothing but cowardice. But the other side believes that just because a coup has not happened yet it does not mean it won’t. 
This latter camp believes that Prayuth is just buying his time, and in the process trying to weaken the caretaker government as much as he can.
Maybe just a few people know Prayuth’s true motives and agenda. But the bottom line is that military force has not been used to overthrow the caretaker administration and Prayuthmust have played a significant role in that. 
Some may credit Prayuth for helping preserve the “last shred of life” of Thai democracy, while others may blame him for democracy’s comatose situation or the political dead-end that is helping nobody. Prayuth has been particularly outspoken regarding some red shirt leaders’ threat to “divide up” Thailand. His aggressive response might have something or nothing to do with the speedy manner in which the issue has subsided. Again, some may thank Prayuth while others must loathe him.
The Thai crisis has created enigmatic generals. Prayuth’s predecessors have been deeply involved in the turmoil or have even been directly blamed for it.
General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has gone from being a coup-maker to a “pro-reconciliation” advocate and has not gained much credit for the transformation. 
General Anupong Paochinda was taunted as “two-faced”, and similar doubts, albeit not as strong, have clouded Prayuth.
Having to politically choose a side or walk a tightrope has become an integral part of the Army’s job now. Thailand’s problems have become too complex to pinpoint whether the men in uniform love to intervene in politics or are often dragged into it. 
It has to be noted that before the Army ousted Thaksin Shinawatra in the 2006 coup, his cousin Chaiyasit Shinawatra had been the Army commander-in-chief.
That nobody is wholeheartedly thanking Prayuth for the fact that Thai democracy is scraping through, at least for now, speaks volumes about the myth involving the Thai military and Thai politics. This myth will continue no matter what he says or how he acts. And even if he leaves the tightrope and does things more decisively, he will still be a curse to some and a blessing to others.