From The Nation newspaper
Is Anupong "trapped" like all of us?
Published on November 29, 2008
If Army chief is not what PAD charges he is, he may represent most Thais who simply are caught in the middle
The most enigmatic figure in Thai politics over the past few months has been Army chief Anupong Paochinda. Detractors call him a coward and betrayer and accuse him of being bought off by Thaksin Shinawatra. Admirers see a brave general who is willing to be pilloried by both sides of the deepening national conflict for the country's best interests. The latter group believes that he of all people knows what damage another coup will inflict on Thailand, whereas the former alleges that he had been spending all his time on the fence just to wait for an opportunity to strike for his own benefits.
All speculation aside, the Army has always been in an awkward position _ deservedly so. Having spearheaded the overthrow of the popularly elected Thaksin government, the Army deserved not to be trusted by recent governments which were dominated by political associates of the ousted leader. It also deserved to be presumed by critics, locally and internationally, as the key ally of the People's Alliance for Democracy. And it deserved to be scolded by the PAD on a daily basis when things didn't go the protesters' way.
Anupong has had to negotiate one curve after another. The "return to democracy" made him and former prime minister Samak Sundaravej the strangest bedfellows. Samak was smart to leave the military considerably on its own while going ballistic against the PAD on a routine basis. The first cracks subsequently appeared in the Anupong-PAd relationship.
After the October 7 bloodbath, the rumours that Anupong had betrayed everything by switching to Thaksin's side, allegedly with handsome rewards, intensified. He went on TV to announce the bloodbath and implicitly called on the Somchai government to "show responsibility". To some, that was a responsible general taking a measured view of the schemes of things and doing the best he could. To others, he was simply play-acting to get himself out of the jam in the wake of the political tragedy.
As the "Anupong has been bought off" rumours got stronger still, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat appointed him chairman of the political crisis monitoring committee that brought together academics, technocrats and military officials. This very committee, after the Suvarnabhumi shutdown, proposed that the prime minister should dissolve the House and the PAD should subsequently end its protests. Then, to add confusion to the Anupong-Somchai relationship, the Army was suspiciously left out operations relating to the state of emergency Somchai declared on Thursday on the seized Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports.
So, who is Anupong exactly? Someone "bought off" but still "distrusted" who kept play-acting with the most disturbing demands that shook the government's stability every time he made them? Or is he simply caught in the middle because he tries to hold on to two principles _ no violence against the protesters and no coup?
It's simply too bad if he is the former. But it will be very sad if he is the latter, because those are two good principles. In fact they are the principles that should go hand in hand. And in this case Anupong will be just like many other Thais who are struggling to keep their sound souls amid the battering storms working relentless to blur their conscience.
Our national crisis has twisted and distorted many good values and made them clash while they should have been fostered as a package foundation to drive Thailand forward. It rubbed salt to our wounds when Thaksin Shinawatra of all the people preached from overseas, in the wake of the Suvarnabhumi closure, that when anyone tries to stay above the law, a country will be in trouble.
Sadder still is, events unfolding in Thailand are forcing "the latter" Anupong's hand rather than allow him to think the principles through, just like they are forcing all neutral Thais to accept the inevitability rather than hold on and leave no stone unturned for the best way out. After all the years of efforts to reform politics, we are back to the point where we have to live with what is shoved in front of us and presented as the lesser evil. The saddest of all is the fact that all this is happening because of proclaimed attempts to build what is best for Thailand.