The Thai Coup
The Thai coup, now done and dusted, leads to the inevitable reflection of what this all means for Thailand and perhaps more particularly, what it means for expats and farangs alike living or working in Thailand.
At running the risk of being subjected to criticism by Thais as a farang meddling in the affairs of Thailand, and with the limitations placed on Thailand by the Junta in respect to freedom of speech, I will nonetheless give my 10 baht's worth.
There is no doubt that the coup had popular support from the majority of Bangkokians. That said, it would be equally correct to say that a government democratically elected was overthrown by means of armed force. It was a sad day for democracy, for sure, however does the effect justify the means?
Thai democracy, in its infancy, was arguably hijacked and perverted by the Thaksin regime. Whatever one thinks of Thaksin as an individual, this government was criticised by academics and general populous alike. Why? Well one could start with a rather dictatorial way of running the country. He did, it would seem, run the country similar to one may want to run a company. I mean, if a businessman as successful as Thaksin is, why not run the country like a business? For a start, a country, a democracy for that matter, is not a business. Checks and balances should, in a proper democracy exist. The rule of law should reign supreme over all else, the gun included. But this was not the case. The Thaksin regime had, in a sense, a foot in both camps. On the one hand extra judicial killings of alleged drug dealers was rampant in the early days of Thai Rak Thai's term of government. On the other hand the less fortunate of Thailand, most notably the population of the impoverished north-east and others, were afforded cheep healthcare. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. What was it about Thaksin and his government that put so many noses out of joint?
The junta has given for its reason of taking control as the rampant corruption. That may well be the case. But does that justify in itself the taking by way of the gun, democracy away from the people of Thailand? Some would say there was no other way. The military, by acting pre-emptively, released the pressure that was building between the two competing sides of the political divide. Thailand was headed toward violence on the streets of Bangkok, the southern Muslim insurgency notwithstanding. Both sides, pro and anti Thaksin forces were lining up against each other with protests in the streets scheduled for October. By intervening, the military effectively defused the situation. This is Thai politics par excellence.
There were of course other factors. The fact that the Thai military enjoyed the support of the monarchy can not go unnoticed and was the knockout punch delivered in a very Thai way.
So what of the future for the Kingdom? Well, of course only time will tell, however in the short term at least, the situation, such as it was, has been defused with a caretaker Prime Minister about to be named and the promise of a return to a civilian government in a year. That does seem a rather long time, however, we will wait and see.
So where does this all leave the farang? It would be fair to say that Thaksin was not the most popular man amongst farangs in Thailand. He did much to put himself offside with them, though I suspect that Thaksin saw this as another way of endearing himself to the Thai population. I also suspect that life for the farang in Thailand will change little. What will happen to the new visa regulations is anyone's guess and as for bar closing times, well, that may remain the same as well or change little.
The Bush administration announced yesterday that it was reviewing military ties and other aid to Thailand in the wake of the coup. I would imagine that there would be many bar owners, farangs included, who would not welcome the prospect of no more visits of large US battle groups into Pattaya. No doubt, this would have an effect on the bottom line of those businesses. But I strongly suspect this would only be short term.
Farangs will be permitted and encouraged to continue to come to Thailand, spend their money and then leave. For those living in the Kingdom, I suspect that the status quo will remain, albeit without Thaksin.
It is fifteen years since the last coup in Thailand. Many had pronounced that Thailand had done away with military coups. As history has shown, those who do not take the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat the failures.
Thaksin arguably overplayed his hand leading to the coup, thus taking away from Thailand its fledgling democracy. But if the military in Thailand are true to their word, and let's hope they are, all hopefully will return to the will of the people very soon.
For the sake of Thailand and the Thai people, my hope is that representative government can return. It will return. The question is how soon and in what shape?
Long-term, things will be interesting.