A crisis averted…but for the better?

Okay, so on Tuesday the school hosted this forum on the coup which I attended and was quite interesting and informative. Part of it involved tracing the events leading up to the coup. One in particular that seems to contribute to why the military acted when they did, is that on September 20, the day after the coup, the PAD, the primary anti-Thaksin group, was planning on holding a large anti-Thaksin demonstration in Bangkok, one that could have attracted half a million people, or possibly more. Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party where planning on busing his supporters in from the north to stage a counter demonstration. Along with this group of supporters Thaksin was apparently planning on sending in his loyal faction of the military. Presumably, this would create quite a volatile situation that would have almost definitely resulted in violence. From New York, Thaksin then would have been able to declare a state of emergency and martial law, which would have given his power a blank check, a rather scary proposition.

I’ m kinda amazed at how much bad press Thailand is getting from the international community and media about this. Yes, it’s undemocratic, but Thai history isn’t particularly democratic either, and Thaksin’s regime certainly wasn’t. Yes, he was elected, but he bought votes and his allies controlled nearly every asect of the government. It was almost guaranteed that he would have been elected in November which would have caused an even greater outbreak in demonstrations (that were already going strong). But that and the corruption aside, Thaksin’s time in office was riddled with irregularities and even human rights abuses, with his “war on drugs” in which thousands of drug dealers were executed without a trial. Additionally, the constitution was virtually non-existent during his time, as he had stopped the Parliament from ratifying the various articles.

It is interesting to think about the fact that while we’re getting all this criticism for being a bad democracy, there really are no countries that are not first world countries that have stable democracies. Many in Thailand have argued that democracy is not right for them and dismissed it, and particularly the idea of a constitution as a western creation, which may add to the fact that democracy is so rocky here…18 coups since 1932.

Similarly, when you look back at Thailand’s coup history, I can’t think of a single one that has had a real positive result. There’s a great expectation that this one would be different, especially given Sonthi’s (the general who led the coup) close relationship with the King. They were going to be here for two weeks and then step out. But yesterday, details of the new “temporary” constitution were leaked to the local press and it indicated that the junta would remain a part of the new government as the “Commission on National Security,” since as they argue that while the situation is stable at the moment, it may not be months from now. Additionally, they would act in an advisory role to the civilian Prime Minister, and, according to the local newspaper, would have to approve anything the civilian Prime Minister did. He would essentially be a puppet of them. Perhaps things will not turn out for the better after all.

All this discussion about the problems with Thaksin’s administration resonates louder and louder with what is happening in the U.S. While Thaksin was in power, his friends and family became very rich through business deals with the government….that sounds an awful lot like Halliburton, but here people demonstrate over it! Similarly, Thaksin won a lot of the rural vote by appealing strictly to that group, but that too isn’t so different either, as our elections are riddled with special interest groups. And as clear as it is that Bush did not win in 2000, nobody really cares, while here when Thaksin didn’t maybe didn’t really win the election there are mass demonstrations!

I’ve been struggling to understand why there are demonstrations here over some of the same things that happen in the U.S. Could it be that the U.S. thinks it couldn’t happen there, while they’re well used to it here? I think what’s even more surprising that I realized in talking to someone last night, is that many of these things (except the 2000 and possibly 2004 election) are all legal in the U.S. It’s like legalized corruption…we’re really not a superior form of government, are we?

At the same time I’ve been trying to think why we’ve never had a military coup d’etat in the U.S. I presented the question to my Thai Ways teacher and her response was “Well do you think people would put up with it?” Well it is a bit hard to argue with people with guns, though they have here in the past (1973, 1976, and 1992) and many people were shot in the streets for it. But I think the answer to that question is that no, we probably wouldn’t. We’re very used to the form of government we have, while in Thailand (by comparison) it’s relatively new. We were also founded under this system, while democracy has come pretty late in Thai history. Also, could that be a reason why a large part of our military tends to be overseas in some place or another? That way they pose no threat to the government? Just thoughts.

Anyways, I’m a bit less optimistic now about the state of Thai democracy, but we shall see what happens. It certainly will be interesting though, I do hope for the sake of the Thai people, that whatever the result is, that it is best for them, which is something that any western nation can tell them.

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