Reshuffle saga leaves Sukumpol stronger

Now that the military reshuffle crisis is over, with Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat having triumphed over his rivals, the "winner" appears to have consolidated absolute power in the ministry.

Defence Minister SukumpolSuwanatat unhesitatingly demonstrated his decisiveness by transferring opponents of his reshuffle plans to inactive posts.

ACM Sukumpol is back to his old self. There are no signs of the stress that gripped him from late August, when he issued the order that reverberated like a thunderbolt _ the removals of defence permanent secretary Sathian Phoemthongin, deputy permanent secretary for defence Chatree Thatti and director-general of the Secretariat Department Pinpas Sariwat to inactive posts.

His blunt move prompted Gen Sathian to petition the Administrative Court.

ACM Sukumpol was able breathe a sign of relief when the court eventually dismissed the case on the grounds that Gen Sathian submitted fake documents and false signatures to back his petition.

From then on, the situation unfolded in ACM Sukumpol's favour.

His reshuffle list of 881 officers received royal endorsement without interference from Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, as he had earlier feared.

With Gen Sathian throwing in the towel without further appeal, Gen Chatree _ his nominee for the next permanent secretary and the rival of ACM Sukumpol's choice Gen Thanongsak Apirakyothin _ will be made inspector-general. Gen Pinpas will become an adviser at the Office of the Permanent Secretary. Both are inactive posts.

This reshuffle, which will become effective this Monday, is unprecedented in the number of officers involved _ 811, the highest in Thai history.

Despite the ministry's downsizing policy, almost 300 officers are to be promoted to the rank of general.

Of the total, the army gets the biggest portion, with 103 new generals, followed by the Defence Ministry's Office of the Permanent Secretary, at 65, the air force, 54, the navy, 44, and the Supreme Command, 35.

More importantly, an unprecedented number of air force officers will be promoted to the Defence Ministry's Office of the Permanent Secretary.

The reshuffle success is an absolute triumph for ACM Sukumpol, who managed to allocate mutual benefits among the armed forces. He gave each force a free hand to make its respective transfers. Even though the minister asked for some personal favours, he returned them too.

More importantly, ACM Sukumpol created some 210 senior positions in the Office of the Permanent Secretary for the three armed forces to share, with the army gaining the largest proportion. This can be seen as repaying armed forces' commanders for supporting the minister's nomination of assistant army commander Gen Thanongsak as new defence permanent secretary.

So this transfer list is accepted by all parties concerned who have joyfully shared the reshuffle cake _ both the factions close to the Pheu Thai Party, and the officers loyal to former defence minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon.

It is obvious that ACM Sukumpol, has emerged stronger in the aftermath of the reshuffle crisis.

His practice of chued kai hai ling do (killing the rooster to frighten the monkey) will serve as an example for generals, who will now think twice about crossing him.

But it's unlikely that such a row will be repeated. ACM Sukumpol, who completed the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School's Class 10 with ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has limited his political interference. He has resorted to military brotherhood, practising "give-and-take" instead.


Wassana Nanuam reports on military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

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Writer: Wassana Nanuam
Position: Reporter