Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fallen Hero

Every year Thailand has a reshuffling of the police brass.  A new chief is chosen and officers are placed into new positions.  There is a board including the PM, cabinet members and the current police chief that approve the list.

Its a very political process with a lot at stake.  The current government obviously wants a police chief that supports it.  The current government, for example, certainly wouldn't want a supporter of former Prime Minister Thaksin as the police chief or in any key role.  Its understandable that they want people they can trust in those key roles.

The stakes are also high for those being reshuffled.  Some assignments are much more attractive and lucrative than others.  If you are an officer in an area where vice is widely practiced, you might find that the purveyors are extremely grateful for you overlooking their transgressions, and may express that gratitude in the form of cash payments.  If you are in the deep south of Thailand, where Muslim insurgents are planting bombs and carrying out violence, people under your jurisdiction might express their "pleasure" with your efforts by trying to kill you.  With so much at stake, officers would be foolish to leave such matters to things like chance, polite smiles, or hard work.  It helps to have powerful friends and benefactors. 

The last police reshuffle was contentious, as the previous chief was embroiled in controversy.  He had been approved by the previous government, and was certainly not beloved by the current one.  There was also a split between PM Abhisit and his cabinet on who should be the next chief.  Abhisit finally won out, but things went far from smoothly.

While the reshuffle was completed a few months ago, last week there was a tragic footnote.  Police Colonel Sompien and his aid were killed in a bomb attack by insurgents in Bannang Sata.  The colonel had served in the south for forty years, and was due to retire next year.  The insurgents put a bounty on his head, so Colonel Sompien had requested that he spend the last year of his service somewhere safer, reasoning that he had earned it for his years of faithful service.  His request was denied, and he was killed. 

This week, the king posthumously promoted the colonel to the rank of general.  The story has been talked about as an example of the cost of corruption in the police assignment process, but the red shirt rally has attracted most people's attention. 

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