Sat, Sep 19, 2009 - Page 9 News List

No need for a coup to keep the military happy

By Peter Janssen  /  DPA , BANGKOK

Three years after the Sept. 19, 2006, coup that toppled then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, only the military has something to smile about in Thailand’s current political climate.

The pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) today plans to gather thousands of protesters in Bangkok to condemn the putsch that ousted their leader.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, 45, has imposed the Internal Security Act in the capital to ensure that the protest will not turn into a street brawl over the weekend or while he is attending the UN General Assembly next week.

The Internal Security Act allows the military a role in cracking down on protests should they get out of hand, as they did on April 11 when red-shirted UDD demonstrators raided the venue of an Asian summit being held in Pattaya, 100km southeast of Bangkok, forcing Abhisit to cancel the event.

Abhisit had to declare a state of emergency on April 12 as the UDD protest moved to Bangkok, allowing the army to step in and crack down on what had developed into street fighting a day later. Two people died in the clashes.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit, who has been prime minister for the past nine months, owes the military establishment in more ways than one for his current job.

Army Commander-in-Chief General Anupong Paojinda was openly opposed to the previous coalition government led by the pro-Thaksin People Power Party (PPP).

When former prime minister Samak Sundaravej declared a state of emergency last October in an effort to rid Government House of yellow-shirted anti-Thaksin protestors, Anupong did nothing.

Later he publicly called on Somchai Wongsawat, Samak’s successor, to resign. When the PPP was dissolved by a Constitution Court ruling in December, the military allegedly played a pivotal role in persuading certain pro-Thaksin politicians to switch allegiances and join the Democrats in setting up a new coalition government.

The current military establishment has arguably found the perfect way for influencing Thai politics without resorting to coups.

“The armed forces today have found their perfect niche,” said Paul Chambers, a political scientist from Germany’s Ruprecht-Karls University. “They have this weak civilian government, and the international community will not blame them if anything goes wrong with the economy.”

The military has had decades of practice in Thai politics.

It was a group of Young Turk officers who staged a coup in 1932, ending the absolute monarchy and replacing it with a democratic system under a constitutional monarchy.

Over the past 77 years there have been long years of military rule, interspersed with 18 coups against civilian governments, with the latest ones in 2006 and 1991.

The military’s role in politics arguably reached a nadir after May 1992, when troops were called to Bangkok to put down a mass demonstration against the appointment of former army commander-in chief Suchinda Krapayoon as prime minister.

After a bloody crackdown, leaving at least 44 protesters dead, Suchinda was forced to resign, and for 14 years the military was sidelined, allowing Thailand to gain a reputation as one of Asia’s most progressive democracies, especially after the promulgation of the 1997 Constitution, deemed the country’s most liberal, and supportive of elected governments and political parties.

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