Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Thailand coup

I am more than a bit of a fan of the Thais having lived in Bangkok for 8 years and having seemingly permanent Thai connections. So like Salon, I am upset to hear of the coup that has occurred there. The coups in Thailand generally pass without great violence but what is disappointing is that, like many people, I had hoped the military in Thailand would not intervene anymore during a political crisis. It has been 14 years since the last military takeover and the military’s role in Thai affairs has declined. Many of us hoped permanently.

Even so, as recently as last week, amid growing tensions in the wake of an alleged bomb plot against now-ousted and deeply unpopular Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin was busy trying to quash coup leaders. But he has now led a coup – the government, he said, was tainted with corruption and cronyism. Martial law has been declared across the country and the 1997 constitution cancelled. The corruption claims might be true but an election not a military intervention should be the way to sort this out.

There are more important issues for the military to deal with – in particular the Muslim insurgency in the South – an excellent editorial in Thailand’s, The Nation, summarises the difficulties. Sonhi, as a Muslim, is well-placed to help sort these out.

The current coup is the 18th since 1932. Most coups in Thailand are fairly non-violent. On the other hand one can never tell – while many coups are non-violent there have been ugly incidents in the past related to political instability. In 1976, between coups, hundreds of students were killed and wounded at Thammasat University in Bangkok by right-wing and vocational students.

Hopefully His Majesty King Bhumibol can sort this mess out as he did in the 1991/92 coup – he is apparently close to General Sondhi. It is hard for non-Thais to appreciate the extent to which His Majesty is revered in Thailand. He is also politically experienced and understands the world of Thai politics as well as anyone.

On a nostalgic note, I was living in Bangkok when the 1985 coup happened and was most surprised at how unruffled the local population were by it. My housemaid just laughed when I expressed my concern. ‘Oh Mister, This always happen’. So the next day I got the bus from my home on the Superhighway out to my workplace about 40 km north of the city. We got stopped by army officers holding automatic weapons somewhere around the airport. When the officers got on the bus the young Thai girls on the bus giggled at the soldiers loudly. I remember being petrified with fear but the soldiers just got off the bus and we were on our way – the girls still giggling and me remaining very, very quiet. Later I was told that the giggling was an Asian way of handling a tense situation – maybe.

That evening - being now experienced in the ways of coups! - I went down to the bar district on Patpong Rd and had a beer or six. Neither the bar-girls or their farang customers were much interested in the coup. ‘Buy me a drink Mister’ was the refrain.

Thailand, and its beautiful people never ceased to surprise me!


Anonymous said...

The problem with having an election is that Thaksin has mastered the art of pandering to populism.

In Thailand this is especially effective because of their highly stratified society.

60 million peasants love Thaksin because of his handouts to rural areas.

The Chinese in Bangkok who actually run the economy can't stand him.

They are outvoted though.

If they had an election everyone knows that Thaksin would win, despite his corruption and cronyism. That is why the coup has come about.

hc said...

Sam, I don't think anything you write gives the military the right to determine who should govern.