Pattaya Daily News

28 May 2014 :: 11:05:00 am 88214

Thailand’s 1950s Coup

Thailand has averaged one coup every 4.5 years for the last eight decades, so the military has definite ideas on how it should be done.
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The problem is that crude, 1950s-era techniques of control can’t stand up to 21st century modes of dissent. Last week’s putsch already shows signs of running off the rails.
 
Unlike the coup of 2006, when the military’s critics kept largely silent, this time protests began immediately. Small bands of citizens suddenly shouted epithets at soldiers in the streets, driving back confused young men unprepared for such behavior. The protesters’ avowed strategy is to keep the demonstrations small and dispersed, to make it more difficult for the army to deal a decisive blow and to stretch the military’s resources.
 
The “red shirts” who support ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister before he was deposed in 2006, can mobilize millions in mass rallies, as they showed in 2010. But they are too smart to tackle the army head on. Even though many are farmers from the northeast, they are far from being the unsophisticated “buffaloes” the royalists call them. Their resistance may force the military to take tougher measures such as shutting down the Internet that will make the coup more unpopular and costly.
 
The battle hinges on whether the military can hold on to power long enough to force through a new constitution before they allow new elections. The charter change would further rig the legislature so that Thaksin supporters can’t form the next government, despite the support of voters. Such “reforms” were a key demand of the royalist protesters who paralyzed the Yingluck administration for six months.
 
Thailand will suffer least if this coup fails quickly. Gen. Prayuth claims that King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave his blessing Monday, but he is too frail to deliver that message publicly. Divisions within the army and the palace could play a role in forcing the army to back down.
 
The markets also say that this coup may not succeed. Two auctions of government bonds failed in the last few days, reflecting a lack of faith in the new government. Usually bargain hunters jump into the stock market after coups because of “Teflon Thailand’s” ability to bounce back from turmoil. This time analysts are warning investors to stay on the sidelines and expect more trouble. Manufacturers are worried their supply chains may be cut off.
 
Now is the time for Thailand’s foreign friends to step up with a clear warning to the junta. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there is no justification for the coup, and Washington has cut off military aid and cancelled joint exercises. If troops kill civilians in the streets as they did in 2010, the Obama administration will have little choice but to suspend wide-ranging ties with its ally.
 
Thailand’s elites are desperate enough to hold power that they may not care about the economic and diplomatic damage. Gen. Prayuth appeared in gold braid at a press conference on Monday and threatened to “use force and enforce the law strictly” against protesters. He stalked off stage when a reporter pressed him on an election timeline. Soldiers set up loudspeakers at one protest site to taunt Mr. Thaksin’s supporters as paid lackeys and stooges of foreigners.
 
The bitterness on both sides is a contrast to the last coup, which was largely accepted as an opportunity to push the reset button on a political impasse. But the military proved unable to run a modern government. After the constitution was rewritten in 2007, the Thaksin side realized that the royalists were determined to suppress the will of voters. They are rightly reluctant to let the army and the palace get away with a repeat.
 
The only way to put a stop to such coups is for the democracy supporters to triumph decisively, restore the democratic 1997 constitution and hold the junta members accountable. Past putschists have granted themselves amnesty; if Gen. Prayuth and his gang won’t leave peacefully, they deserve to go on trial for tearing up the constitution. Thais are shocked that their generals are stuck in the 1950s. It’s time to drag them into the modern world.
 
Report by online.wsj

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