Monday, October 02, 2006

When a coup is a good thing

22 September 2006

By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA—Coups are never considered a good thing, even if they bring peace and order back to a country in a political crisis.

This is true in the case of the military coup that ousted Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra on 19 September.

Thailand observers and some foreign countries have already called the coup a setback for the nation’s democracy.

The US, in particular, is most critical of the coup.

"There's no justification for a military coup in Thailand or in any place else," said State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey.

“We are also reviewing our assistance to Thailand in light of the various legal implications of assistance to a country in which there has been a military coup to depose a civilian elected leadership," said US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.

To be sure, since 1991, when the nation last saw a military coup, Thai politics has moved from away from its off-and-on military rule to a civilian government.

In a closer look, however, the coup has several positive aspects to it.

First, it brings a long-awaited end to Thailand’s political crisis that has started since the April election this year.

Thaksin's decision to snap the April elections followed a mounting campaign of criticism of his personal financial dealings.

In January, his family sold its stake in
Shin Corporation, a leading communication company, for 73 billion baht (about $US1.88 billion), an enormous profit on which the Shinawatras legally paid no tax.

The opposition Thai Democratic Party boycotted the April election and took to the streets of Bangkok for several weeks to demonstrate against Thaksin’s campaign and accuse him of abuse of power and corruption.

Even though Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) Party won the April election, it did not end Thailand’s political crisis.

Shortly after the election, Thai courts ruled the April election result unconstitutional, based on the ground that Thaksin’s party pulled most of the votes.

Following this ruling, Thaksin took the role of a care-taker prime minister and a Thai general election committee scheduled a rerun of the April election for October this year.

Together with Thaksin’s heavy-handed handling of the conflict in Muslim-majority southern Thailand, months of street protests against him had already damaged the Thai economy, particularly the tourism industry.

Second, it is a bloodless coup.

There has been neither resistance from the people towards the military nor any violence since the coup took place.

In fact, many Thais see the coup as a good thing. About 75 percent of Thais support the coup—evident in their giving of food and flowers to Thai solders as they seized control of Bangkok.

"I'm delighted he's gone," said opposition senator Mechai Viravaidya. "It would have been great if he had resigned voluntarily, but apparently he was too stubborn. But at least it's better than an assassination."

Third, and most importantly, this coup had support from the king.

Unlike many countries in which the military is the most powerful institution in a political crisis, or vacuum, the ultimate authority in Thailand rests with the King.

Officially, his influence over Thai politics is limited. In practice, however, he yields immense power, due to the reverence that the Thai people have for him.

In the past, the king has stepped in to restore order in Thailand during military coups and riots. And whenever he does that, the whole kingdom of Thailand, including the military, submits to his authority.

So, even though the king has said nothing about the coup, it could not have happened without his blessing.

In fact, the coup leaders announced on television that the king endorsed Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin as the head of the temporary government.

They would not dare to say that if the king did not support them, would they?

Among other things, the coup has shown that the role that the king plays is prominent as ever.

And as undemocratic as it may seem, the coup has put an end to the Thaksin fiasco, and that is not a bad thing at all.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist (www.thangthecolumnist.blogspot.com). He is currently editing a book on Thailand.

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7:47 PM  

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