Newspapers around the world fell over themselves to editorialize on the Thailand coup. The Korea Herald and The Australian are generally mild, suggesting, on the whole, that Thaksin had it coming. The Age goes further than most in focusing on the role of the Thai monarch in the coup. The Nation in Thailand, editorializes on what kind of leader is needed by the country.
The most remarkable Nation (my favorite Thai paper and which Newsstand says is the best, but which Richard Parry of The Times of London condemns for military boot-licking) story though is this. Sonthi outsmarted Thaksin at the eleventh hour:
However, an intelligence report reached General Sonthi’s camp stating that there would be bloodshed on Wednesday. The People’s Alliance for Democracy had planned to hold a political rally that day at the Royal Plaza in order to force Thaksin out of politics. Had that rally taken place, there would have been clashes between the People’s Alliance for Democracy and Thaksin’s supporters and blood would have been spilt on Rajdamnoen Avenue. If only Thaksin had promised that he would take a break from politics and allow a period of political reforms to take place, the PAD and other branches of the anti-Thaksin movement would have declared victory. All political confrontations would have subsided. Thaksin could have run for office once the Constitution was amended, and he would have been returned to the premier’s post, probably in the latter part of next year.
However, Thaksin never considered taking a break from power. Again, don’t be fooled by his “taking a break” story – the idea never crossed his mind.
The General Sonthi camp learned that during the PAD rally, Yongyuth Tiyapairat and Newin Chidchob were planning to rally their supporters to create an ugly scene at the Royal Plaza. During the ensuing commotion, there would be human casualties. Thaksin would then have stepped in and declared a state of emergency, placing the country under martial law.
Now you can understand why he had time to prepare his state of emergency statement and read it at 9.20pm on Channel 9 from his New York hotel room. You can also understand why Yongyuth and Newin are now at the top of this country’s most-wanted list and have surrendered themselves to the CDRM for interrogation.
Once the situation was under his complete control, Thaksin had planned to fly back yesterday in order to declare victory over anti-democratic elements in society. He had a military reshuffle list in hand that would have further consolidated his control over the military. With that accomplished, everything would have been easy. Virtually all institutions in the country would have been under his directive…
Members of the Thai elite and the PAD, however, would not allow this to happen. If Thaksin were to run in the next election, he would have won. With 12 million votes or so, he would have claimed a democratic majority and he also would have stayed on as prime minister. After that he could rewrite Thai history by turning Thailand into his own regime.
General Sonthi had to act fast to head off Thaksin’s coup. He staged a military coup on Tuesday, a day before the bloodshed was set to take place. He and Thaksin did have a telephone conversation on Tuesday evening, with Thaksin trying to buy time and negotiate a settlement.
He told General Sonthi that if he kept his cool, Thaksin would take a break from politics. He asked Sonthi to wait until he returned from New York so that the two could talk things out and said that he would reschedule his return flight to Bangkok to Wednesday, instead of yesterday as he had planned.
General Sonthi was polite, but told him that he had no choice, that he had to stage the coup…
Thaksin’s wife Khunying Pojaman Shinawatra was supposed to take a 12am flight to Singapore on Tuesday night. She quickly changed her flight to 9pm…
Twenty-five minutes later, knowing that his wife was safely on an aircraft bound for Singapore, Thaksin read out his state of emergency address from his New York hotel room, effectively sacking General Sonthi .
But an hour later, General Sonthi declared a counter-coup to overthrow the Thaksin regime and tear up the Constitution.
This story suggests the need for soul searching along the lines of When is the abhorrent practice of staging a coup justifiable?
If a democracy will legitimize a future dictatorship, should the people be allowed to anoint a dictator? Or should it be nipped in the bud, but in doing so, instituting a dictatorship, anyway? Apolinario Mabini once said “drown the constitution in order to save it!”
Here’s an interesting tidbit (from the story above) that bucks the conventional wisdom that Thaksin continues to be wildly popular in the provinces:
On the other hand, this coup is quite popular both in Bangkok and in the provinces. A survey conducted by Suan Dusit showed that the majority of Thais – 84 per cent – support the coup. Support was higher in the provinces at 86 per cent compared with 82 per cent in Bangkok.
Or suggests something I think our own Edsa II indicated: the masses can elect a leader, the middle and upper class can topple that leader -in large part because immense mass popularity does not translate into an active political defense. That suggests that the kind of popularity say, Estrada and Thaksin enjoyed was a passive, because patronage-based, one.
Reactions to the coup have been generally negative, in principle, so it’s interesting to read what a Thai who supports the coup has to say. Interesting Things, blogging from Bangkok, wrote an open letter to Western friends explaining the coup. Bangkok Pundit praises the democratic opposition for (belatedly) expressing unhappiness with the coup.
Meanwhile, Thaksin floats in a kind of political limbo in London; the United States makes some noises about the coup, mainly about its aid; but in Thailand, there is already a short-list of successors even as the interim regime prepares to investigate Thaksin’s wealth and as Bryanton Post says, the media continues under a clampdown.
Here at home the official jitters continue. The President bleats for democracy (and her cabinet oinks in unison); DFA tells Filipinos to be careful in Thailand (they may become monarchists and getting ideas); the military growls it’s in control. Raul Lambino, overnight, has become a “constitutional law expert” and warbles that the Thai coup shouldn’t make anyone’s parliamentarist feelings wane. Some obvious defects in his reasoning: parliamentary countries are overwhelmingly monarchical or post-monarchical; many constitutional monarchies have kings with moral authority and have used their authority or even residual powers; and he sidesteps the closest analogy of all: there is no use in invoking the benefits of vote of no confidence when the only party leader of this country ever to lose one was Estrada. But every majority has held firmly until overtaken by other events.
Mike Tan compares Thailand to the Philippines and suggests why the President shouldn’t fear a coup and why people shouldn’t want one: we neither have honest generals nor an uninterested moral authority to keep things in check.
In other news:
In Japan, the Dailu Yomiuri is distraught over a court ruling that says teachers don’t have to stand at attention when the flag is raised and the national anthem performed. From Malaysia, Screenshots reports Harry Lee (aka Lee Kwan Yew) is stirring up ethnic tensions with the Malays again.