Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


May 24, 2014


To understand the drama that has ensnared Thailand, historical perspective is required. This is the only way to grasp the real circumstances of this week's coup.

Many foreign commentators lambasted the last coup, in 2006, against Thaksin Shinawatra. However, they either were unaware of, or ignored, the events that triggered it. The day before the coup, militant individuals including armed forestry guards had grouped outside Bangkok, and a major attack against anti-Thaksin protestors was expected. This would have resulted in great casualties. The Army stepped in to prevent this; appointed respected and retired General Surayud Chulanont as caretaker Prime Minister (which post he only grudgingly accepted); and subsequently a new constitution was drafted, and referendum and election held. A Thaksin controlled political party then won the election, based on rampant election fraud - voter intimidation and vote buying - in the north and northeast of the country.

As a side note, the 2007 constitution replaced the 1997 charter, which at the time was viewed as a major breakthrough for the country - its first modern democratic document. Thaksin, however, had been able to undermine it by buying control of the House, Senate, and Courts, thereby giving him say over all the branches of government, and invalidating the charter's system of checks and balances.

Jump to 2014: Thaksin, continuing his overall strategy to dominate Thailand, even from his exile as a fugitive convicted criminal, has had Red Shirt villages organized throughout the north, imitating Mao Zedong's use of the Red Guards, which terrorized China during the Cultural Revolution. Intimidation of villagers opposed to him now becomes even more severe. Then, in the middle of the night, he tries to push through an amnesty in the House that would allow him to return to Thailand without having to go to prison, and to reclaim confiscated assets. A large opposition, much broader than the previous Yellow Shirts, emerges in response to this outrage. The amnesty attempt is defeated, and ultimately his "clone" and sister Yingluck is removed as PM - but not her entire Cabinet. Meanwhile, there has been an escalation of extremely violent attacks against the protestors, and two dozen, including bystanders - among them children, are killed. The Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), under his senior lieutenant Chalerm Yoobamrung, does nothing about this - it is doubtful the crimes are even investigated. Instead, Chalerm actually "predicts" more attacks. Finally, in an audacious and highly symbolic assault, three more protestors are killed at Bangkok's Democracy Monument.

Even though he had been removed as Labor Minister, Chalerm refuses to step down as head of CAPO. Thaksin has another close associate, Niwuttamrong Boonsongpaisan, appointed to replace Yingluck as caretaker PM. Niwuttamrong refuses to resign to allow a nonpartisan interim government to be formed, and the Senate, facing legal complexities, feels unable to force the issue. In a situation very similar to that of 2006, meaning an anticipation of even greater violence, the Army steps in to declare martial law. Its first order, other than establishing itself, is to deal with Chalerm by disbanding CAPO.

The difference between martial law and an outright coup is that the Army leaves the caretaker government in power. General Prayuth Chan-Ocha calls all the parties together, most likely in the hopes that Niwuttamrong will step down and pave the way for a new and less controversial temporary government to be formed. Thaksin refuses to allow this. Hence, the military is left with no other option than to declare a formal coup, following which its first action is to end the caretaker government. It is likely now that a new interim government will be established, and with another respected leader at its head. The path to nationwide reform can then proceed.

To the international community: please try to show some sophistication in your views of Thailand. A coup is not always "A Coup": a brazen power grab by a group of soldiers for their own selfish purposes. As a last resort, the military may serve as the guardian of democracy. Certainly many leading members of both of the country's major factions are corrupt, and widespread reform is desperately needed. But what has been underway for close to a decade now, and which has actually resulted in two different coups, is solely due to the behavior of one megalomaniac. To Thaksin himself: you need to understand a couple of things. You are never coming back without serving your sentence. You are never getting your assets returned. Get used to it! Stop turning the north against the south. Stop stealing from the country, and holding back positive national development. Stop destroying Thailand!