Reading today’s news from Thailand I am struck by the level of critical energy devoted to attacks on the coup-masters and Thailand’s fumbling dictatorship. As just one example, The Nation – which for so long maintained a reasonably consistent pro-coup, anti-Thaksin bent – is carrying a handful of very confrontational pieces.

Chang Noi reviews the Fa Dieo Kan coup special and concludes with a reflection on the post-coup landscape:

Given these events, how can monarchy and democracy coexist for the long term, without regular crises? More people have begun to doubt that this coup was ever the solution to anything. This book argues that the big issue now is not the military or political corruption or populism, but how to prevent an elite minority controlling politics and keeping the masses as passive partners, in part by exploiting the symbolic power of the monarchy.

In more veiled terms, Suthichai Yoon highlights what he sees as a “conspiracy theory” driving current political machinations. He uses this “theory” to explore the forces at play behind the Somkid and Pridayathorn debacles.

Most interesting of all is a short article on General Saprang’s recent overseas jaunt. It is based on allegations made by Thai Rak Thai Party executive Chamlong Krutkhuntode. According to The Nation‘s piece:

General Saprang Kalayanamitr, assistant secretary general of the Council for National Security(CNS) and chairman of Airports of Thailand (AOT), came under attack yesterday for “squandering” Bt7.2 million on a week-long trip to England and Germany last week. Saprang returned to Bangkok yesterday and refused to talk to reporters.

Thai Rak Thai Party executive Chamlong Krutkhuntode alleged Saprang had disbursed “unrealistic expenses” and voiced suspicion on inflated costs that paid for accompanying family members not on the official list of the AOT delegation.

On Tuesday, Saprang led a 13-member delegation to study safety and security measures at major airports in Europe.

“Work was just a pretext for the overseas trip because so many delegates and accompanying members share the same family name,” Chamlong said.

On top of going to England and Germany, one of the delegates, Chirmsak Pinthong, got an expenses-paid side-trip to Denmark and Norway where his wife is the Thai ambassador, he said.

Chamlong said the expenses would not have been so high if the trip was strictly for business.

According to the AOT statement, expenses included Bt5.5 million for travelling costs, Bt1.2 million for entertainment and Bt500,000 as a “commission fee” for a travel agent.

Of course, politicians and administrators (and Generals of all stripes) do undertake regular trips and study tours. Such trips are not unique to Thailand or its current crop of strongmen. And they are probably controversial everywhere. In Australia, for example, politicians’ tax-payer funded trips are often pilloried for their extravagance. That’s not to imply that no benefit comes from these trips. I imagine that many are formative, educational and highly productive.

In this case, the bill came to over 420,000 baht per person.

Is 5.5 million baht “unrealistic” for a “teow” to Europe?

Perhaps the better questions are: What did Saprang (and team) do in Germany and Britain? Does this trip fit the regime’s “sufficiency” ideology? What benefits will come of the big spending week? And why Germany and England? What does this trip say about the regime’s priorities?

Can New Mandala readers offer any insight?