In the lead-up to Thailand’s July 2011 election the tough-talking army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, weighed into the political debate, insisting that voters should defend the king and elect ‘good people’. General Prayuth hoped, no doubt, that his efforts to sway popular sentiment would lead to a victory for the embattled Democrat Party.But when Thais went to the polls they passed a very different judgment, determining that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Democrat-led coalition government deserved electoral oblivion.

The election of Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to the nation’s highest political office would have come as a shock. General Prayuth may, at least for a day or two, have wondered whether a coup would be a reasonable response.

Despite persistent claims to the contrary, Thailand’s army is still in the coup-making business and, since toppling Thaksin in September 2006, has shown a dogged commitment to political intervention.This reality contradicts the army’s stated goals. Over the past two decades the army has sought to professionalise its image and develop a leaner, better-educated and more technologically proficient force — and professional soldiers will theoretically avoid political entanglements

Better training and non-partisan indoctrination will encourage them to ‘stay in their barracks’, leaving politicians to take care of political matters.

But Thailand’s increasingly professional army is yet to disentangle itself from politics: it remains a potent political force and has proved willing to make abrupt interventions to protect its role.What explains this situation?A big part of the answer lies in the relationship between the palace and the army.

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Thailand’s soldiers of political fortune

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