THREE ARMY "brothers" who have been close since their days as junior military officers came together again after one of them staged a coup on May 22 and appointed the other two as his advisers.
This time around, their joint mission will perhaps be the most important one – bringing about national reconciliation and reforms – after the power seizure managed to end the political violence that had been continuing unabated for more than six months.
Two of the “brothers” are retired commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army and the youngest one is the current Army chief. The “big brother” is former defence minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, the second is former Army chief General Anupong Paochinda, while the “little brother” is Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is now leader of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
After his bloodless power seizure, Prayuth appointed a 10-member advisory team to the NCPO, giving the two top positions to his brothers. Prawit is the chief adviser, followed closely by Anupong, who was once Prayuth’s boss and his immediate predecessor as Army chief.
The three “brothers” had worked closely in the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. Prawit was then the defence minister, Anupong the Army chief and Prayuth his deputy. During the political turmoil of 2009 and 2010, they played a key role in dealing with the protests by the red shirts.
In fact, the three men had worked together long before that, at the Second Infantry Division of the Royal Guards in the eastern province of Prachin Buri. Commanders from this division are known as “Burapha Phayak” or Tigers of the East.
Prayuth replaced Anupong as Army chief in October 2010, while Prawit lost his Defence portfolio after Pheu Thai Party came into power following the 2011 general elections and Yingluck Shinawatra took over as prime minister, and later also as defence minister.
However, despite losing his seat as defence minister, Prawit retained his influence among the younger military commanders. In fact, some red-shirt leaders also speculated that he might be a prime ministerial candidate.
The three Burapha Phayak brothers have worked together in the Foundation for Joint Forests in Five Provinces. Prawit is the foundation’s chairman, and Anupong and Prayuth serve as its committee members. MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, former Bank of Thailand governor and former finance minister who is one of the NCPO’s advisers, also acts as deputy chairman of the foundation.
The Burapha Phayak brothers continue to maintain their close ties at a personal level. They have met regularly. Anupong has his guesthouse inside the First Infantry Division of the Royal Guards compound, which also houses the foundation’s office. Prayuth’s guesthouse also is located nearby in the same compound.
Earlier this year, when then prime minister Yingluck was under mounting pressure from an anti-government rally led by Suthep Thaugsuban of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, the First Infantry Division was used as venue for a meeting between Yingluck and Suthep in talks brokered by the military. However, the talks failed and the two conflicting sides could not reach any agreement in finding a way out of the political deadlock over the past six months |or so.