Thai Military Oust Thaksin
By Tom Lloyd, Political Correspondent
Late night on Tuesday, the 19th September, the unbelievable happened in Bangkok. Not unexpected entirely, but still shocking in the way it changed the political landscape in Thailand. Despite repeated reassurances by the big wigs in the Thai military, that they will never ever interfere in Thai politics again and that military coups are the things of the past, the armed forces moved quickly to stage a bloodless coup and declare martial law.
The leader of the coup is General Sonthi Boonyarataglin, chief of the Army and he was supported by the Navy and Air force too. The coup leaders declared the Constitution suspended and a public holiday was announced for Wednesday, the 20th. On the morning of that day Bangkokians woke up to tanks and Humvees patrolling the streets and soldiers wearing yellow ribbons, the colours of the royal family. During the same day General Sonthi was allowed an audience with His Majesty The King and subsequently had received royal endorsement for his actions.
The General stated that the coup was necessary to end intense conflicts in Thailand's society that Thaksin had created. He further said that they only intend to hold on to power for 2 weeks during which time an impartial and respected person will be found to head an interim government to run the country till October next year when elections will be held.
The coup took place during Thaksin’s absence from Thailand on one of his official trips which would have included a speech to the General Assembly of the UN and consequently cancelled. Thaksin proceeded to travel to England where he owns property and joined his daughter there.
General Sonthi stated that the action he took was justified by rampant corruption and cronyism in the Thaksin Administration and stated that his actions averted possible bloodshed as opposing forces were gathering for a showdown in the streets of the capital.
At the time of writing, the support for the bloodless coup is registering an amazing 86% and the general consensus in Bangkok is, that the end justifies the means and Thaksin’s demise is a welcome development after nearly 1 year of calls for his resignation.
The reaction of the leaders of many countries, especially of the western democracies, was somewhat different! The USA, EU, Australia among many others were deploring the retrograde step of a military coup and voiced their concerns for the speedy return of democracy. They had also issued travel warnings to their citizens, which were actually unnecessary, as Bangkok and other tourist destinations were calm and unaffected with the exception of the South where violence continues unabated. In fact during the month, the most serious bombings took place around Hat Yai, with fatalities among tourists.
The interesting thing about General Sonthi, the coup leader is that he happens to be a Muslim, and a lot of people feel he may now be able to negotiate better with Muslim rebels down south, without the uncompromising attitude of Thaksin.
In analyzing the situation as it stands now, one has to agree that the ousting of Thaksin had improved the volatile situation in Thailand and defused the power keg of political pressure cooker scenario. Had he remained in office, things could have turned ugly with blood in the street and the fracturing of Thai society beyond repair. The Coup had circumvented this and most Thai people breath easier now, since confrontation is not liked by Thais.
Thaksin was a bullying politician, who ruled in an arrogant way and believed he knew everything better than most. His human rights violations reflected this attitude. His populist policies only gave temporary respite to the poor and not a solution for their future and education. His demise can be 100% adjudged to be of his own making, he came with great promise and reformist ideals, somewhere along the way he lost sight of the ideals and only thought about personal gain and position. Not so unusual in the scheme of things, there are many other politicians who succumb to personal glory and greed, power corrupts, everyone knows that!
Well the power now is in the hands of the military, how are they going to handle it?
Will they give it up as soon as possible and let civilians carry on or will they yield power from behind the scene? 15 years since the last coup and everyone thought it was the thing of the past, but the barrel of the gun is still powerful. Do we accept that the military have a roll to play in politics or should they just be professional soldiers concentrating on any external threats to the country? Under martial law, the citizens can not exercise basic rights, like free speech, free assembly, free associations, free media, etc.
Obviously, curtailments of these basic rights for any length of time represents a huge backward step in the fledgling Thai political life and democracy. In this context the public should be just as strong in voicing their concerns as they were against Thaksin.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
By the time these words are read a civilian caretaker leader should have been appointed with capable caretaker ministers to set the country back on the right track towards amending the Constitution and setting up democratic elections. Any delay in this respect would only serve to raise fears and suspicions about the military coup leaders. Are they patriots or opportunists? Had they done what they did for the sake of the Country or had they acted out of personal vendettas, unfair military reshuffles, or to maintain the old way of military interference in the affairs of the country?
These are the questions that need to be answered and the quicker the better!
It is sincerely hoped by this writer at least, that this should be the last time there is a “need” for the military to move into the streets.
Here is hoping for a better future for Thailand and her citizens and Long Live His Majesty, King Bumhipol!
It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. I just hope that a new government is elected democratically soon. The talk of waiting until November 2007 seems rather a long time.