Who’s who in the Thai coup?

In 2006 Privy Council Chair Prem Tinsulanond made the famous statement that Thai governments are the temporary jockeys which ride the horses, and it is these permanent horses that are in fact Thailand’s soldiers.  Not long afterwards, the military, as led by the Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard (ETQG) faction, spearheaded a coup which toppled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. ETQG has dominated the leadership of the Royal Thai Army ever since.  Despite attempts by Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra to revive the influence of the Wongthewan (Kings Guard) faction to trump the power of the ETQG or perhaps to persuade the ETQG to come over to the Shinawatras’ side, such has not come to pass.  Indeed, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, as army commander and member of the ETQC, ultimately led the effort to destroy Thaksin in Thailand.  He did so as the current leader of the ETQC. And indeed, on May 22, 2014, the Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard “rode again,” leading a military coup against the Puea-Thai caretaker government. In the aftermath of the putsch, this faction has consolidated itself to the detriment of other military factions, rationalizing its domination of the military in the name of securing order for the kingdom of Thailand.

But who are the military personnel behind the 2014 coup? Some are active-duty and others are retired.  First we must understand that Army Commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha was reluctant to carry out this coup though he was pressured to do so by Privy Council Chair ret. Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and others. Prem and his deputy ret. Gen. Surayud Chulanond stand as a nexus between Prayuth and the palace. Nevertheless, the coup has at least temporarily helped Prayuth in monopolizing and personalizing power over the armed forces—for the time being.

In post-coup Thailand, Prayuth is the head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).  The secretary-general of NCPO is another member of ETQG, Deputy Army Commander Gen. Udomdet Sitibutr.  Udomdet is a Prayuth confidante and will likely succeed Prayuth as Army Commander in October 2014, unless Prayuth is able to extend his term beyond his 2014 retirement.  The NCPO is extensively influenced by the Rattha Bukkon, a grouping of arch-conservative Thai statesmen, chaired by former Supreme Commander ret. Gen. Saiyud Kerdphol. Saiyud is close to Privy Council Chair ret. Gen. Prem but also has a direct line into the army since his son Gen. Aksara Kerdpol is currently the Army Chief of Staff.

The NCPO military junta represents a grouping of the ETQG, as supported by Prem and also soldiers in pre-cadet classes 12, 14 and 15. Army Commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha is at the head of the NCPO.  However, other ETQC military officers, both retired and active-duty, are also quite influential.  This includes ret. Gens. Prawit Wongsuwan and Anupong Paochinda, and Daopong Ratanasuwan.  All three are now serving as advisors to the NCPO and Prawit may eventually be appointed as interim Prime Minister. Other important military officers today are active duty Gens. Udomdet, Thirachai Nakwanich, and Walit Rojanapadki.  All three are members of the Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard faction.  Finally, Gen. Paiboon Khumchaya is included as a part of NCPO.  Paiboon is now the current leader of the Wongthewan (Kings Guard) faction, and it is important that the ETQG co-opt support from this clique behind the NCPO. But in the end, it is the ETQG which is in control of things.  Indeed, 1st Army Commander Teerrachai Nawanich, a leading member of ETQG, has been placed in charge of the Peace Maintaining Force, as the body of soldiers which is tasked with counter-insurgency efforts against Red Shirt or Thaksin forces. Ultimately, the NCPO is led by active-duty military personnel but is advised by retired generals who have close tie to the palace and enormous influence over the junta. The list below details the senior generals (active and retired) who were involved in the May 2014 coup or are currently in the NCPO.

Table 1: Active-Duty Generals

Name Currently Former Posts Peerage
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha Army Commander, head of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) 2010-Present Member of Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard faction, pre-cadet academy class 12
Gen. Udomdet Sitibutr Deputy Army Commander, Secretary-General to the NCPO 2013-Present Member of Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard faction, pre-cadet academy class 14
Gen. Aksara Kerdphol Army Chief of Staff 2013-Present Pre-cadet academy class 14, son of ret. Gen. Saiyud Kerdphol
Gen. Paiboon Khumchaya Assistant Army Commander, head of legal affairs, NCPO 2013-Present Pre-cadet academy class 14, current leader of Wongthewan (Kings Guard) army faction
Gen. Teerachai Nakwanich 1st Army Commander, Commander of Peace Maintaining Force (PMF) 2013-Present Member of Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard faction, pre-cadet academy class 14
Gen. Chanchai Putong 2nd Army Commander 2013-Present Pre-cadet academy class 14
Gen. Preecha Chan-ocha 3rd Army Commander 2012-Present Pre-cadet academy class 15, younger brother of Prayuth
Gen. Walit Rojanapakdi 4th Army Commander 2013-Present Member of Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard faction, pre-cadet academy class 15
Gen. Tanasak Patimaprakorn Commander, Armed Forces 2011-Present Member of Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard faction, pre-cadet academy class 12
ACM Prajin Jantong Commander, Air Force 2012-Present Pre-cadet class 12
Adm. Narong Pipattanasai Navy Commander 2013-Present Pre-cadet Class 13
Police Gen. Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit Police Commander May, 2014-Present Pre-cadet class 15, close to Bhumjai Thai Party

 

Table 2: Retired Generals

Name Currently Former Posts Peerage
Gen. (ret.) Prem Tinsulanonda Privy Council Chair Army Commander 1978-1981; Prime Minister (1980-1988) Head of “Prem” faction of army, 1980s
Gen. (ret.) Surayud Chulanond Deputy Privy Council Chair Army Commander 1998-2002; Supreme Commander 2002-2003; Prime Minister 2006-2008 Confidante of Prem, pre-cadet academy class 1
Gen. (ret.) Prawit Wongsuwan Chairman of advisors to NCPO Army Commander 2004-2005 Member of Eastern Tigers faction, pre-cadet class 6
Gen. (ret.) Anupong Paochinda Advisor in charge of security, NCPO Army Commander 2007-2010 Member of Eastern Tigers/Queens Guard faction, pre-cadet academy class 10
Gen. (ret.) Daopong Rattanasuwan Advisor in secretary general of advisors to NCPO Deputy Army Commander 2010-2013 Pre-cadet academy class 12
Gen. (ret.) Saiyud Kerdpol Chairman, Rattha Bukkon group Supreme Commander 1981-1983 Member of “Prem” faction of army, 1980s

 

The May 22, 2014 coup is only the latest in a long line of coups in Thailand. The notion of “coup” implies the illegal seizure of power over a country by a group of people over another. In other words, it is a form of regime change and it is usually carried out by the military. Thailand has had over 30 coups and coup attempts over the last century.  The list below details these coups and coup attempts in summary form.  It does not include Field Marshal Plaek Phibul Songkram’s martial law regime (1938-1944) or the latest 2014 coup. This list of coups comes from appendix 1 of the book Knights of the Realm: Thailand’s Military and Police, Then and Now (2013).

 

  Year Date Type of Regime Putsched
1 1782 April 7 absolute monarchy King Taksin‘s two leading generals Thong Duang and his younger brother Boonma successfully rebelled against him.
2 1874–1875 Dec. 28–Feb. 25 absolute monarchy Prince Vichaichan of the front palace unsuccessfully rebelled against King Chulalongkorn. The failed revolt led to the abolition of the front palace.
3 1911 ? absolute monarchy A prince was discovered plotting to unseat his brother and usurp the throne.
4 1912 Jan. 13 absolute monarchy Led by Khun Huaythanpitak, a group of 91 soldiers unsuccessfully tried to assassinate King Vajiravudh. They were disenchanted with the king’s perceived favoritism toward his new Wild Tigers corps.
5 1917 April absolute monarchy Imperial Germany unsuccessfully plotted to replace King Vajiravudh with Prince Rangsit.
6 1932 June 24 absolute monarchy Gen. Phahon Yothin led forces in Bangkok in forcing an end to the absolute monarchy.
7 1933 mid-April party dictatorship Royalist PM Mano, with support from royalist military elements, closed the National Assembly and attempted to rule by decree—a silent coup.
8 1933 June 20 party dictatorship Gen. Phahon Yothin led a successful coup against appointed royalist PM Mano.
9 1933 Oct. 11 party dictatorship Gen. Phibunsongkhram led forces in putting down the rebellion of Prince Boworadet.
10 1935 Aug. 3 party dictatorship Two seargents led a coup attempt against the regime, demanding better pay and a better standard of living. It was foiled.
11 1939 Jan. 29 party dictatorship Song Suradej and 50 other soldiers were arrested for an attempted poisoning of and coup against Phibunsongkhram. Song was sent into exile.
12 1947 Nov. 8 electoral democracy Phibun and Gen. Phin Choonhavan ccessfully carry out a coup against PM Thawal Thamrong Navaswadhi
13 1948 Feb. 27 electoral democracy Phibun and Phin attempted a coup against their puppet PM, Khuang Aphaiwong, but the navy refused to support it and the coup failed.
14 1948 Apr. 8 electoral democracy After top military brass forcefully demanded that PM Khuang Aphaiwong resign, he did so. The incident became known as “Khuang’s Mugging.”
15 1948 Oct. 1 deconsolidated democracy A plot by Gen. Somboon Saranuchit and Gen. Netr Kemayothin to assassinate military leaders at the wedding of Sarit Thanarat and carry out a coup was thwarted before it could get off the ground.
16 1949 Feb. 26 deconsolidated democracy Pridi Phanomyong led a navy-assisted coup attempt which only failed because army troops refused to go along with it.
17 1950 Jan. 27 deconsolidated democracy Gen. Kat Katsongkhram was accused of planning a coup against the regime and was forced into retirement and exile.
18 1951 June 29 deconsolidated democracy In a second Pridi-sponsored putsch attempt, naval officials kidnapped Phibunsongkhram, demanding a new government. The air force bombed the ship he was on, but Phibun was able to swim to shore. The coup failed.
19 1951 Nov. 29 deconsolidated democracy With King Bhumipol out of the country, the military abrogated the pro-royalist constitution, reverting to the Constitution of 1932. The incident became known as “the Radio Coup.”
20 1957 Sept. 17 deconsolidated democracy Gen. Sarit Thanarat usurped power, sending PM Phibunsongkhram and Police Commander Phao Sriyanond into exile.
21 1958 Oct. 20 deconsolidated democracy Sarit carried out an auto-coup against his own government, abolishing the constitution and dissolving Parliament.
22 1964 Dec. 1 dictatorship Police arrested ten members of the air force, navy, and police who were apparently conspiring to hatch a rebellion.
23 1971 Nov. 17 deconsolidated democracy In an auto-coup, PM Thanom Kittikachorn abolished the constitution and dissolved Parliament.
24 1973 Oct. 14 dictatorship Amid student demonstrations, Gen. Krit Sivara broke with Field Marshals Thanom and Praphas, forcing the end of the Thanom/Praphas regime.
25 1976 Oct. 6 electoral democracy Following a massacre of university students, Adm. Sangad Chaloryu leads a coup which brought a reactionary, anticommunist regime to power.
26 1977 March 26 dictatorship Gen. Chalard Hiransiri and 300 soldiers attempted a coup but it failed. A top officer was killed during the fracas, and for that, Chalard was executed.
27 1977 Oct. 20 dictatorship Adm. Sangad Chaloryu led a second coup, this time against the reactionary regime of Thanin Kraivixien, placing Gen. Kriangsak Chamanand in power.
28 1980 March 12 half-democracy In a “silent coup,” Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda replaced Kriangsak Chamanand as prime minister. The coup was deemed “silent” because an “invisible hand” ensured Parliament’s approval of Prem.
29 1981 April 1 half-democracy The “Young Turks” military faction and Gen. Sant Chitpatima attempted a coup against PM Prem Tinsulanonda. After heavy fighting in Bangkok, it failed.
30 1985 Sept. 9 half-democracy Elements of the “Young Turks,” including Col. Manoon Rupkachorn, attempted another coup against Prem. It quickly faltered.
31 1991 Feb. 23 electoral democracy Generals Sunthorn Kongsompong and Suchinda Kraprayoon led a successful coup against PM Chatichai Choonhavan.
32 1992 May 24 deconsolidated democracy Following a violent military crackdown on protestors, PM Suchinda Kraprayoon is pressured by the king and Prem to resign.
33 1994 Dec. 18 electoral democracy Prem, now a privy councilor, pressured the Chart Pattana Party to replace the New Aspiration Party, which had defected from a Democrat-led coalition, giving the latter a further six months in office.
34 1997 Nov. 6 electoral democracy Following pressure from Prem, a faction within Prachakorn Thai party switched to support the Democrat party, effectively paving the way for the Democrats to lead a new coalition government.
35 2006 Sept. 19 electoral democracy Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin led a royalist coup against PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
36 2008 Dec. 2 electoral democracy After a pro-Thaksin political party is dissolved, a coalition government led by Democrat Abhisit Vejjajiva is formed. The coalition parties initially meet in the home of Gen. Anupong Paochinda.

Seri Thai is a pseudonym for Thai political scientists who are escaping the witch-hunt currently underway against academics in Thailand.