“The ‘Big-Big’ are in a meeting. It’s got nothing to do with us.”
In the day-to-day bureaucratic lingo, Big-Big is often used. It refers to more than one Big, but not limited to just two Bigs.
A Big is a high-ranking officer in the military or police forces. But it doesn’t describe just any general. After all, Thailand has too many generals. It won’t be special, if every general is called Big.
The general in question must be a man of prestige, influence and grandeur. In other words, he must be really Big, big enough to wield political influence or to become a prime minister, whether through a democratic election or a military coup.
Big is followed by the nickname of the person.
For example, an army chief is a Big. Hence, the current army chief, General Apirat Kongsompong is Big Daeng. The previous army chiefs, General Prayuth Chan-o-Cha is Big Tuu and General Prawit Wongsuwan is Big Pom.
How it got started
It began with General Arthit Kamlang-ek, who was army chief 1982-1986. His name Arthit means “sun”, hence he was called Big Sun. The name was first coined by a newspaper columnist, to reflect the power and influence Big Sun wielded.
As well, it’s used as a journalistic bait, to make the news headline more catchy. There’s also a practical aspect to it. His entire name and rank took up too much newspaper space, there’s art & science in laying out a newspaper. Big Sun simply is more convenient and economical.
Needless to say, the name caught on. Soon, the public and every newspaper was referring to the General as Big Sun.
Big VS Bigger
In the 1980s, Big Sun was the most powerful man-in-uniform next to the prime minister, General Prem Tinsulanonda. General Prem was never called Big, but he was the man in charge of Thailand in the 1980s and continued to wield considerable influences in Thai politics until his death on May 6, 2019.
Big Sun came to prominence in 1981, as a leader of the counter-coup against the Young Turk Coup. He would later be promoted to army chief. Big Sun clashed with General Prem when he lobbied to extend his term as army chief, in a move many saw as attempting to expand his power at the expense of General Prem.
In response, General Prem sacked Big Sun from his post, the first army chief to have ever been fired. Replacing him was General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a Prem loyalist, who later became prime minister 1996-1997. He is called Big Jiew.
Often, it’s just a Big Joke
Other well known Bigs include Big Su, General Suchinda Kraprayoon, the man behind the 1991 military coup and the Black May 1992 massacre. Army Chief General Apirat’’s father, General Sunthorn Kongsompong, was also known as Big Jod. He was never army chief, but helped General Suchinda in his coup and became de facto head of government 1991-1992.
These days, Big is used more liberally. The chief of every armed forces branch is called Big, including the police chief, General Chakthip Chaijinda, or Big Pae.
But there are also special cases. For example, Police Lieutenant General Surachet Hakpal is called Big Joke. He’s qualified as Big, because he’s the right-hand man of General Prawit, and wielded considerable influence.
That was until his recent downfall.