No promise of quick return to democracy after Thai coup

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last week’s military coup follows the traditions of Thai politics, where generals frequently intervene to end political paralysis. Yet, unlike Thailand’s many previous coups, this time there is no promise of a quick return to democracy.

For many Thais, last week’s military coup was a welcome development after more than 6 months of political crisis that saw mass demonstrations regularly paralyzing life in Bangkok. The country’s generals have long believed they hold a special role in safeguarding national stability and the sacred role of the monarchy, and have used this as a justification to overthrow civilian governments on more than 20 occasions in the past.

But the current coup took on a dark character early on, with the ruling junta setting aside the constitution, detaining dozens of politicians, shutting down most of the media, and ordering 155 people, prominent intellectuals and activist among them, to report to the military.

This coup is the military’s second attempt at solving an increasingly polarized political divide. The current crisis is essentially a political power struggle between the supporters of the populist and charismatic Thaksin Shinawatra, massively popular in the rural Northeast, and the political establishment in Bangkok.

Unable to defeat Thaksin in the polls, his opponents initiated massive street protest that eventually saw the military oust him in 2006. He staged a comeback in 2011 from his exile in Dubai, when his sister Yingluck won another majority victory.

GRI has previously covered the eroding trust in democratic values in Thailand, a country long considered among the most politically liberal in Southeast Asia.

The anti-government protest movement has been markedly intolerant of the democratic mandate the Shinawatra clan repeatedly received from Thailand’s poor rural farmers, even claiming they were not educated enough to elect governments.

On the other hand, Shinawatra’s support movement, the red shirts, have also staged massive street protests when their political counterparts held power.

The protests that erupted last fall were very much a continuation of the inability of the opposition, which is primarily made up of conservative monarchists, to defeat the Shinawatras by democratic means. They culminated in Yingluck being forced to resign this month after a ruling in the Thai Constitutional Court.

She had attempted to resolve the crises by dissolving parliament and calling for new elections this February, but disruptions by anti-government protesters lead to a cancellation of the result. The coup followed merely two weeks after Yingluck’s resignation.

Unlike in previous coups, the generals have not promised a quick return to civilian rule. Apart from promising undefined “reforms” before any new elections, there is yet little indication on what direction they intend for Thailand.

Previous attempts at running the country have proven rather unsuccessful for the Thai army. Meanwhile, the already weakened economy is starting to feel the effect of the prolonged instability. Stocks have tumbled, consumer confidence has dropped to a 13-year low, and analysts warn that GDP growth forecasts will be dramatically cut.

What is clear, however, is that the coup, like the previous one, will do nothing to solve the power struggle that has plagued Thailand for more than a decade.



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Categories: Pacific Asia, Politics

Author:Havard Bergo

Håvard Bergo has lived and worked in the US, Europe and Asia, and has worked as an intern for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Bangkok and as a freelance journalist for Norwegian publications. Håvard holds an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a BA from NTNU in Norway. He has focused on studying East and Southeast Asia, and his interest in understanding regional affairs has resulted in extensive trips throughout the regions. His key passion and expertise is however in Myanmar. Having traveled there on multiple occasions, Håvard wrote his MSc dissertation on the political and economic liberalizations and is constantly staying up-to-date on developments in the country.


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