In post-coup Thailand, what is happening with Prem?
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In post-coup Thailand, what is happening with Prem?

Prem Tinsulanoda, Chairman of the Privy Council, has  been key player in Thai politics in recent decades, particularly in regards to military appointments. 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
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[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 (see Ockey, 2004). Of course, the longer the period since Prem retired, the more his influence in the military will weaken.

BP: He was at the zenith of his powers and influence at the time of the 2006 coup. Prem was also the conduit between the military and the palace.  However, since 2006, his powers and his ability to influence things have waned as Prayuth and the Eastern Tigers have their own connections and they have been able to bypass Prem. Marwaan Macan-Markar in an article entitled “On top at last, in civilian clothes” in The Edge Review (subscription only) in the edition of August 22-28. Key excerpts:

It does not stop there, given what is now coming to light in Thailand’s secretive culture of backroom politics, power brokers and elite networks. Prayuth, unlike Sonthi, is also not beholden to the influential networks that have served as traditional gatekeepers to the monarchy, where the highest authority in the kingdom lies. Most prominent in that semi-feudal web is the Privy Council, a body of royal advisers, led by the nonagenarian Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda.

The Eastern Tigers are resurgent at the expense of the traditional lines of command that used to be more beholden to Gen. Prem,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “They have their esprit de corps.”

Such liberties have pushed Prayuth to surround himself with loyalists he trusts. For instance, the civilians he chose for the 200-member NLA were not drawn from those he had closed ranks with two months ago — the ultra-conservative political camp that backed his coup. “These coup supporters are feeling sour,” said a Bangkok political observer, referring to the leaders of the months-long street protests that paved the way for the army to oust the last elected government, headed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

BP: It is not easy to please people all the time and from what BP understands not all are happy about how the spoils have been divided up.

Then on August 25, 2014, Wassana of the Bangkok Post reported:

Gen Prayuth is set to retire from the army on Sept 30. Some believe he may appoint Gen Udomdet as acting army chief.

Gen Udomdet, who is currently also a deputy army chief, is a close aide of Gen Prayuth and has long been expected to succeed him.

Meanwhile, Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda has decided to forgo his usual meeting with senior military leaders to mark his birthday this year.

They normally pay their respects at his Si Sao Thewes residence.

Gen Prem turns 94 tomorrow. Gen Prem wants privacy and does not want to disturb NCPO members, the source said.

BP:  Interesting use of “Meanwhile” there in the Bangkok Post. While officially Prem was not welcoming the senior military figures, Thai Rath’s page 3 political analysis on August 28 reported that Assistant Army Chief Gen. Paiboon Kumchaya did go to Prem’s house on Prem’s birthday on August 26 (Post Today also reported on Gen. Paiboon’s attendance at Prem’s house).

Then, to the present day, Gen. Udomdet has just been selected (Gazette in Thai here) to replace Prayuth as Army Chief at the end of the month, but Gen. Paiboon, who has been suspected as the other possible candidate to become Army Chief, was instead made Deputy Supreme Commander (yes, Deputy). One will have to wait and see over time what the real divisions are, but at least from what BP understands there is no doubt some tension between those aligned with Prem and those aligned with Prayuth. They each hold sway in different areas, but Prayuth’s power as coup leader and PM mean his camp is in the dominant position now.