The Endorsement of General Jakthip Chaijinda as the new national police chief has raised the likelihood that General Preecha Chan-o-cha, the premier's younger brother, will be promoted to the powerful post of Army commander-in-chief this month, analysts say.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday did not chair the crucial meeting of the Royal Thai Police board, leaving Deputy Premier General Prawit Wongsuwan to preside over the vote.
The board voted 6-0 for Jakthip, a member of Prawit's inner circle, while another front-running candidate, General Aek Angsananont, did not get a vote.
Political observers said Prayut's gesture to allow Prawit to handpick the new police chief could have underlined a behind-the-scenes gentlemen's agreement for the premier's younger brother to take up the top post at the Army.
"It's a 1-1 top-post exchange at the highest level between the country's two most powerful figures. On one hand, Prawit got to pick the police chief. On the other, PM Prayut got his choice of Army chief, which is inevitably his own younger brother, who is one of the two front-running candidates for the powerful Army post," said one political analyst.
If General Preecha, currently the assistant Army chief, is named the new chief, Prayut's grip on power within the military will be further solidified for an extended period after trusted General Udomdej Sitabutr retires on September 30.
Analysts said the police chief and Army chief posts were regarded as the two most important in terms of national security as Thailand had not yet returned to a democratically elected government.
Jakthip is known to be close to Prawit, whose own younger brother was a former national police chief, while Aek was a former high school classmate of PM Prayut who was assigned to take charge of the government's crackdown on human trafficking activities.
Both were strong contenders, but Jakthip got the upper hand due to the Preecha factor.
Preecha's rival to become Army chief is General Thirachai Nakawanich,
Thirachai is reportedly backed by Prawit, who is also Defence Minister. Preecha and Thirachai will reach mandatory retirement in 2016.
'Blood relative stronger'
"What will happen is reflected in the Thai proverb, which says that a blood relative is usually stronger than someone who is not related by blood," said another source.
Jakthip is set to become the 11th national police commissioner, replacing General Somyot Poompanmuang, who is scheduled to retire on September 30.
"At the meeting [to elect him], Prawit voiced his support for Jakthip and everyone there nodded," a source at the police board meeting said.
The source said Jakthip had a long-standing close relationship with Prawit's family through his ties with Prawit's younger brother, former national police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan.
When asked about the board's decision, Jakthip beamed. But he refused to comment, explaining that the appointment has yet to receive Royal endorsement.
Born on October 19, 1959, Jakthip has five more years before mandatory retirement.
He is called the "Teargas Gentleman" after he used his shirt to provide first aid to a political demonstrator injured by police teargas during a crackdown in 2011.
Jakthip has been assigned to many important cases including the double murders of British tourists in Koh Tao last year, and car-bomb incidents in Bangkok.
He is famous for being an adept coordinator. He can talk to all sides and wins much respect.
His asset declaration shows he has more than Bt1 billion (S$39.9m) in assets.