2 powerful retired generals behind Suthep

2 powerful retired generals behind Suthep
Backing Thailand's fiery anti-protest leader are former army chief, General Anupong Paochinda (right), and former defence minister, General Prawit Wongsuwan (left). Both have palace connections and wield influence in the military.

Bangkok - His whistle-tooting crowds of supporters are dwindling. His threats against Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra veer from the bold to the bizarre.

But behind Thailand's fiery anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban are two powerful retired generals with palace connections, a deep rivalry with the Shinawatra family and an ability to influence Thailand's coup-prone armed forces.

The forces behind Suthep are led by a former defence minister, General Prawit Wongsuwan, and a former army chief, General Anupong Paochinda, towering figures in Thailand's military establishment, said two military sources with direct knowledge of the matter and a third with connections to Thai generals.

A glimpse into Suthep's connections sheds light on how he could prevail in a seemingly improbable bid to oust a leader who won a 2011 election by a landslide and impose rule by an unelected "People's Council" of appointed "good people", even as his street rallies start to flag.

Although retired, Gen Anupong, 64, and Gen Prawit, 67, still wield influence in a powerful and highly politicised military that has played a pivotal role in a country that has seen 18 successful or attempted coups in the past 81 years.

It is unclear how far that influence goes, or how decisive they could be.

But both have close ties to the army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. And all three have a history of enmity with Ms Yingluck's billionaire brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they helped oust in a 2006 coup.

The military sources said that if Suthep's protests lead to violence, the two could help sway the military to intervene or even to seize power on the pretext of national security, allowing Suthep to go ahead with his People's Council, though analysts say such a scenario appears unlikely in the immediate term.

Gen Prawit and Gen Anupong had expressed readiness to intervene if there was a security crisis, and if Suthep's plan for an interim government was constitutional, said the source with military connections.

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