Above: From a image circulated on social media (possible from an online newspaper):
Call for Gen. Prayuth to continue being PM for at least four years in order to develop the country to be modernized.
[Refers to the many reports from academics, analysts and even fortune tellers commenting that, as long as things are peaceful and people are happy, PM Prayuth should be allowed to stay in power for at least four years to fully complete the junta’s reforms.]
The late-January bombing needs to be viewed in the context of immediate events to understand what parties were likely responsible.
The junta was coming off an embarrassing week. Their claims that all was fine in Thailand, most were happy with their reforms, and that most people did not even realize martial law was in place were suddenly being challenged by someone who could not be called in for an “attitude adjustment.”
Front pages of newspapers further contradicted this by showing a U.S. envoy formally meeting with former PM Yingluck. Articles stated that the envoy planned additional meetings with Red Shirt groups (these were later cancelled under junta pressure).
Claims that Yingluck’s impeachment was simply a non-partisan matter of law and order were later openly contradicted by the U.S. envoy speaking at Chulalongkorn University.
The university is symbolic because its academics and doctors historically provide legitimacy to coup makers through their letters of protest to sitting governments judged to have gone too far in amassing power.
It certainly is possible that a pretext event might be staged at some point to justify continued military control. However, the timing of the bombings, coming as the junta was under pressure and trying to explain itself, means it is highly unlikely they would be staged by the military. This is because the bombing contradicted and embarrassed the junta–especially after nine months of peace.
That the bombing happened in the very heart of urban Bangkok calls into question the perception that the junta really even has control. It suggests that peace exists because Thaksin says so, and he maintains the ability to strike anywhere. In the context of the U.S. envoy’s remarks just days before, the bombing tends to discredit the junta and its claims.
There is every reason for Thaksin to ramp up trouble. Besides giving the junta a black eye and contradicting its claims, the bombing is a warning to the military to hand back power as planned.
In recent weeks in the Thai-language press, it appears that the public is being prepared for at least a four-year tenure for Gen. Prayuth.
Weekly statement by academics, political analysts, and even popular fortune tellers are all letting the public know that, as long as there is peace, and as long as these useful reforms are ongoing, it would be a shame to move too quickly back to elections.
Behind this is the growing realization that the junta has not yet succeeded in breaking up the Thaksin political power base. There are two establishment factions now. One feels a future government can be kept in check by the junta’s changes to the political system. The other (and this feeling is growing) contends the military must not hand back power just to see another Thaksin proxy party come to power to repeat the endless bids for amnesty.
As all of this is happening, the ball is in Thaksin’s court. He has to do something to demonstrate what could happen if an attempt is made to stall elections. If elections are stalled in favor of a long tenure by Gen. Prayuth, it does no good for Thaksin to continue to play nice on the promise that elections are coming soon.
The occasion of the U.S. envoy’s strong words provided the perfect opportunity for a bombing that absolutely contradicted all the junta’s claims about the state of the nation and demonstrated they do not have control.
Despite this neither side has reason to fully show their hand. Thaksin knows the junta is trying to break up his political network, so a new Pheu Thai party chief pegged to become PM will be kept under wraps until nearer an election date. Likewise, the junta will continue to float ideas about continued rule while adamantly promising that elections will be held as promised.
It is likely that another sign of “dissatisfaction” will occur once Yingluck is charged or flees the country. These would be further bomb blasts or possible arson attacks on public buildings in the Northeast. Like the late-January event in Bangkok, they would not be designed to deliberately hurt anyone, but to demonstrate that one party is aggrieved by the unfairness of the situation and still maintains the ability to strike at will.
2Bangkok Editor Ron Morris’ book, The Thai Book: A Field Guide to Thai Political Motivations, is available in the Kindle Store.