What do these bombs mean?

Hospital bomb tied to other blasts – The Nation, May 23, 2017

Bombings tied to “politics.” What does that mean?

The Nation article slyly contains the name of the general who is alleged to be behind this spate of bombings. This is the same general who was accused of conducting the 2007 New Year’s Eve bombings in Bangkok (1). This is a potent political accusation. This analysis explains what these events likely mean if true.

The present bombings indicate the state of background negotiations that will determine the form of the next government along with the junta’s goal. This goal is not unity, but the creation of a coalition or block that freezes out the politics of Thaksin and his electoral majority in the next government.

In reporting Thai politics, the English language media focuses on easy, low-hanging fruit–anniversaries of past political ruptures, censorship and the antics of the prime minister–a person who is not even the most powerful person in the government.

The real consequential stories are the negotiations and the epic struggles to create the political blocks that must be formed before the junta dares to call new elections. This is the real story now and the real story that will shape the future of the nation.

As we have noted here almost weekly, Thai news magazines are full of stories speculating about these negotiations. They tie together a range of political figures from Newin Chidchob and his dormant coalition to big business networks centered around sources of campaign money such as the “Buriram Cluster” and the border casinos.

Prominent in the speculations are middlemen such as Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnviraku who has ties with both the ruling junta and Thaksin. King Power tycoon Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is rumored to be acting as a middleman to rebuild the relationship between Thaksin and Newin who was forced from politics by the strong arm tactics of the Red Shirts after he betrayed Thaksin to join a Democrat Party coalition. All of this led to speculation earlier this year that the junta was trying to negotiate some arrangement that pacifies Thaksin, but keeps him removed from politics.

These rumored talks raised fears that the junta might be thinking itself more clever than Thaksin at forming and holding together political blocks. However, no one has been more successful or tenacious than Thaksin in maintaining blocks of loyal MPs. Every previous attempt to beat him at his own game has failed.

The most powerful person in the junta–Deputy PM Prawit–is behind these negotiations. It should be noted that both the English-language Thai press as well as foreign sources have such a shallow grass of the political situation that they continue to focus on Prime Minister Prayuth and the peculiarities of his personal rule.

However, Prawit is thought to wield more influence and this has long been acknowledged in the Thai language media. Even with the opacity of the Thai world, it is surprising that such simple realities who actually runs the Thai government have been lost in the English language.

It should not be surprising then that the most recent bomb was placed in the Prawit memorial room of the hospital to drive home the apparent disenchantment with the present political currents.

The bombs are meant to discredit the junta–showing they are unable to maintain security and that there is dissension within their ranks. However, the present military clique (the Eastern Tigers) have shown they will go to any lengths to prevent Thaksin from once again directing a government from overseas.

These attacks appear to indicate the texture of what is happening in these negotiations. That the bombs are being left in sensitive and symbolic areas and at sensitive times likely indicates that there is a belief–in at least some political circles–that a viable coalition composed of Thaksin enemies and former friends is in danger of being formed–or that certain blocks will be frozen out of the next government despite election results. Thus, the bombings symbolize that the junta should understand that there is real opposition that can be raised to its machinations–real internal nefarious opposition beyond Red Shirt mobs. (And the location of a hospital is not unusual for Thai protest. It even symbolizes the “pushed too far” mindset that is expected to accompany the Thai conception of protest.)

However, it is very unlikely at this late date–over 10 years since the first anti-Thaksin coup–that there is any real deep military schisms that can be exploited.

Prayuth seems secure in his PM post and it is widely believed that he desires to remain prime minister after the next elections. This has caused a feeding frenzy from ambitious political party leaders who see their own chance to step in as a compromise PM candidate after the next elections–particularly those who can embody a non-military and non-Thaksin image that might be acceptable to the widest coalition of political blocks.

The Thai system still focuses on the politicians over the grassroots. Tough talk by the military and the anti-Thaksin establishment has always been focused, not on the populace at large, but on those political and business forces under Thaksin influence. It is meant to show them that there is the will, no matter what the consequences, to stall and wait out Thaksin and that those who do his bidding should abandon him.

While it is easy to see Thaksin still commanding political loyalty, it seems almost impossible that he could accomplish those things he has shown himself dedicated to doing–rewriting the constitution and/or producing an amnesty for himself so he can return to rule in person.

Thaksin will still be a force politically for the years going forward, but as we have written previously, the narrative is already shifting back to the traditional Thai political struggle–the proper place of the military in controlling Thai politics.

Ultimately these bombs are part of the Thai-style negotiations that will dictate what the next government will look like before even a single vote is cast.

Footnote
(1) Note that foreign embassies at the time of the 2007 bombings were falsely told that the bombings were the work of Southern separatists and to this day many still believe this (despite subsequent legal moves implicating a murky network of officials).
The then-ruling junta wanted to obfuscate the real motivation for the bombings as it did not wish to discredit its own narrative that things were under control–especially after a spate of disastrous and foolish actions taken in the month leading up to the bombings.
The present junta likewise would be loathe to stage such provocative bombings to further discredit its own assertions that it is working fully within the law and with the support of the people for unity.

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