Thailand Politics

Thai soldiers patrol after the clean up operation at the pro-government demonstration site on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014. Pic: AP

This is part one in a three-part series looking at how the Thai junta government after the military coup will be structured, governed and by whom this will be led. Today’s article details the mass purge among government officials. 

“I would like to thank the NCPO for giving me this opportunity,” says the woman who just got her job back from the Thai military junta. “I am a bureaucrat. I am ready to work to my best ability.”

That woman isn’t just some bureaucrat. Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand is a well-known public figure in Thailand thanks to her work as a forensic scientist and was formerly hailed as a proponent for scientific evidence in criminal investigations, thanks to a couple of high-profile cases in the 1990s and her constant rows with the police. In 2005, she became head of the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS), which is attached to the Ministry of Justice.

Having said that, her fame turned into infamy in the last couple of years when she publicly defended the notorious and fraudulent bomb-detecting device GT200 repeatedly, despite proven evidence that the device is less reliable and accurate than a coin toss and a teardown revealed it to be nothing more than an empty plastic shell with an attached dowsing rod. Furthermore, the UK-based distributor of the GT200 was found guilty by a local court and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

The Thai army has procured about 1,000 of these bogus bomb-sniffers, costing somewhere between 700m – 800m Baht ($221m – $252m), while the real cost for it has been hardly 1000 Baht ($30) a piece. Several government agencies were reported to also have utilized in the GT200, including Pornthip’s CIFS.

It’s rumored Pornthip was removed as CIFS head because of the GT200  and was made inspector-general. Now the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as the military junta is formally called, has ordered to reverse this decision, putting Dr. Pornthip back in charge. She already has ideas to revamp Thailand’s forensic institutions.

But she is arguably only  the most prominent among dozens of government officials either promoted, transferred or sacked, as the military junta is shaking up the ranks after it seized power in a military coup in May, toppling the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

As many as 18 top government personnel have been re-appointed to advisor roles at various ministries, including the currently vacated Prime Minister’s Office – a universal euphemism among political insiders for an inactive post that will be terminated after the eventual retirement of an official.

General Nipat Thonglek, who had pledged full allegiance to ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, has been removed from the Defence Ministry permanent secretary post and is now chief adviser to the Defence Ministry. He has been replaced by General Surasak Kanjanarat.

Also gone is Tarit Pengdith, the former director-general of the Department of Special Investigation who pledged his allegiance to Yingluck and vowed to take legal action against those responsible for the political crackdown in 2010 under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

-“Many top officials shown the door“, The Nation, June 29, 2014

The shunting of Srirat Rastapana from permanent commerce secretary to an adviser at the PM’s Office, is believed to stem from her close ties to Thaksin.

(…) she travelled to Dubai and Hong Kong to meet Thaksin. However, (…) Ms Srirat is known to be efficient and has a clean image. (…)

Meanwhile, the transfers of Customs Department chief Rakop Srisupaat and Revenue Department chief Sutthichai Sangkhamanee are not a big surprise as both are thought to have close relationships with the Shinawatra family. (…)

Mr Rakop is believed to have a close relationship with Ms Yaowapa and he was a classmate of Phorruethai, the wife of Thaksin’s younger brother Phayap, at the National Defence College.

-“Regime kicks off second major purge“, Bangkok Post, July 2, 2014

The case of former DSI director-general is particularly interesting since he has famously switched allegiances from the administration of Abhisit Vejjajiva to the government of Yingluck Shinawatra after their election victory in 2011. Just a year before that, Tharit was publicly hunting leaders of the red shirts movement and under his leadership the investigation of at least 90 killed persons during the red shirt protests in 2010 were slow at best, even suggesting that the red shirts killed each other.

However, under the Yingluck administration, Tharit was going after the men he previously served, charging Abhisit and former deputy-prime minister Suthep Thuagsuban (who would, as we all know, later become the anti-government protest leader and according to himself an accomplice in the long-planned coup) with murder for their involvement in the 2010 red shirt crackdown, while just stopping short from charging military officers following an angry uproar by the army chief and current junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

As for Dr. Pornthip, her political leanings were never really a secret: she appeared several times in the past on stages of rallies against the governments associated with toppled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as recently as the anti-government protests of Suthep Thuagsuban this year.

Dr. Pornthip’s return and the mass-transfers of government officials signal the military junta’s downright purge of officials associated to the toppled government of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, and partially replace them with officials sympathetic to the anti-Thaksin faction.

Just as a comparison: During the Yingluck government, there was much outcry over the transfer of only one person (National Security Council secretary Thawil Pliensri in 2011), so much so that the Constitutional Court chased her out of office in a prelude to the coup.

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as freelance foreign TV correspondent. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.