Thailand: Is Prem losing his influence?
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Thailand: Is Prem losing his influence?

The following cartoon appeared in ASTV Manager last week:


Source: ASTV Manager

Quote caption as translated colloquially: “Yes, in the past, Luang Por Prem at Wat Si-Sao is sacred/powerful. [Wearing one of his amulets] made you invincible/invulnerable when you were attacked with a knife or gun…  But now in this era, he is not longer sacred/powerful… In addition, it attracts visitors who want to attack the holder!!!”

BP: The picture is of current (for now) Police Chief Wichien visiting an amulet expert who is looking at his Prem amulet – there is no such amulet in case you are wondering…. For the rest of the context, see the Matichon story and BP’s comments below.

This week’s Matichon Weekly cover:


Picture on the cover is Pol. Chief Wichien and the text reads “Chuwit effect vs father [Prem] effect”
On page 9, there is an article from the cover and BP has briefly summarized the article below:

It is undeniable the tension/problems that have been created by the release of Chuwit’s clip [about the presence of large underground casino in central Bangkok] which may cause Pol. Gen. Priewphan [current Deputy Police Chief and Thaksin’s brother-in-law] to become the new Police Chief. If the previous person [i.e Wichien] does not agree to leave then it is difficult to replace him as evidenced when Abhisit tried to replace Pol. Chief Patchawarat [the saga dragged on for over a year]. Puea Thai have had Priewphan in mind for a while. Chalerm is the person to handle this  and has used the opportunity of Chuwit’s video to remove Wichien. Nevertheless, the planned removal of Wichien comes just after he went to visit Prem who praised him and then the next day Wichien said  he wouldn’t leave. Compliments from Prem which worked in the past don’t appear to work anymore.

On Prem’s role in the past – see James Ockey, “Monarch, monarchy, succession and stability in Thailand“, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, Vol. 46, No. 2, August 2005, pp115–127 at 123:

Prem’s influence has been most clear in the military. Before the rise of the Thai Rak Thai government in 2001, nearly every supreme commander and army commander in the previous decade had been a former Prem aide.17


[FN] 17 Thai Rak Thai party leader Thaksin allegedly intervened in the fall 2002 reshuffle to ensure his supporters would lead the army, changing not only the promotion list, but also the promotion method to maximise his influence. The next army commander was a cousin of Thaksin with no close ties to Prem (seeOckey, 2004). Of course, the longer the period since Prem retired, the more his influence in the military will weaken.

Then, Paul Chamber in a recent presentation (DOC), referring to 1992-2001 at page 11:

To offset the various military factions, civilian governments relied heavily on Privy Council Chair Prem and his vast military influence to ensure control over the Thai armed forces during this period.

Then on page 13

The 2006 coup was directed by arch-royalist Prem supporters in the armed forces who appointed a government to administer the country until December 2007 elections.

BP: Of course, there are many others including McCargo’s network monarchy article from late 2005. As BP noted in this post in 2007, Prem is getting on in years and his ability to influence the Army C-in-C is on the wane. Essentially, the xenith of Prem’s power was the 2006 coup and Prem’s influence has continued to wane since then. After the coup, Prem started to come under attack, whether it be the release of taped conversation between judges and a bureaucrat where Prem is named in 2007 – see posts here and here – and then protests outside Prem’s house soon afterwards, or Thaksin naming Prem in 2009 as the person who was trying to overthrow his government in 2006 – see here and here – and multiple other people before and afterwards criticizing Prem since then.

To put this delicately, Prem’s influence has waned so much that people don’t really even gossip and criticize him anymore. Such criticism is now directed at others. There are others who have a direct connection to senior people in the military and hence there is not the need to go through Prem like what was done pre-2006. Prem has been by-passed. This is the point of the ASTV Manager cartoon. Once Prem was powerful and mighty and to visit him and to get Prem’s blessing – as Wichien had done – would be a sign of your connections and that you were not to be touched, but now, and particularly under a Puea Thai-led government, it is not something that will help you and may even hurt you.

For the Matichon Weekly cover, for now it seems Chuwit’s showing of the video had a big enough effect for the government to remove Pol. Chief Wichien and Wichien wasn’t able to cover that with his visit to Prem.

h/t to a reader for the ASTV Manager cartoon…

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