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Thailand worse off a year after the coup

Updated On: Sep 21, 2007

The first anniversary of last year’s September 19 coup to oust Thaksin has gone without much fanfare.

To be sure, there has not been enough success for the coup leaders and interim government to trumpet. Conversely, the Thai people are frustrated and whatever warm sentiments they displayed in Bangkokduring the coup last year –giving of roses to the soldiers and picture-taking with the tanks –has long since dissolved. What remains is a bitter taste and impatience for the country to get back on its feet again so that the people can earn a proper livelihood.

Coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin knows this too well. Hence, the Council of National Security (CNS) intends to go on a publicity blitz to “report to the public its achievement”, Sonthi announced Wednesday (September 19). Moreover, Sonthi is distancing himself from any public display of “heroism” to avoid incurring public ire. In the same interview, he finally disclosed that there were “only three people [plotting the coup]” –him and two anonymous colonels. Sonthi insisted, “There is no hero. And I have never claimed [to be]. I did it for the country. Everyone acted under my command and in accordance with my plan.”

The only praise heard for the junta came from within the government it installed and the political parties who wish to form part of the upcoming elected government. Interior Minister Aree Wong-Arya “heaped praise on the military government’s efforts in solving the country’s problems in the past year, saying it had consistently reflected on its performance and had been working diligently for the country”. Chat Thai Party leader Banharn Silapa-archa gave the junta seven out of ten marks for performance, saying, “The government may appear slow but it has not been tainted by corruption.” The Democrat Party which has often commended the junta again gave voluble praise. Secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban said, “The people have now realised the damage inflicted by the Thaksin Shinawatra regime and Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont has scored a full 100 marks in his performance as an honest leader.”

From other sectors, it was no surprise that the disbanded Thai Rak Thai party criticized the junta sharply. In addition, leading Thai historian Nithi Eoseewongse said the coup “robbed Thai people of a crucial opportunity to [fight for] a system of checks and balances on their leaders”. Nithi observed, “By the end of Thaksin's rule, the public was getting a taste for its ability to actually begin demanding accountability from its leadership but this was all short-circuited by a select few who wanted to exploit the situation to block Thai society from passing through this new democratic threshold. I don't think there's been any other coup that did more damage to Thai society than this one. Had the generals not stepped in, Thai society would have had a great opportunity to take Thaksin down by itself.” Chulalongkorn Universityhistorian Chalong Soontravanich agreed that last year’s coup was the “worst” Thailand had ever seen, failing on almost every front especially in not correcting the “wrong fundamentals in Thai society” like corruption. Political scientist Thitinan Pondhisurak also commented, “I disliked Thaksin from the beginning and wanted him ousted. But … now as I reassess the costs we have had to pay to get rid of him, I say it's not worth it.”

Most pointedly, Thaksin has come out to slam his usurpers. In an article published by the Wall Street Journal, Thaksin painted himself as a victim, saying that a year ago he was “the first leader in the near 100-year history of Thailand to be not just democratically elected, but democratically re-elected”. Moreover, his government “had cut poverty almost in half, provided universal access to affordable health care for the first time, balanced the budget and paid off our debts to the International Monetary Fund”. He added that he was denied the chance to proclaim to the UN the stability and maturation of the culture of democracy in Thailand due to the ouster. Thaksin exhorted Thailand would never enjoy stability, democracy and development there is genuine national reconciliation which cannot “be achieved at gunpoint or through rigged elections, but rather when our generals and politicians finally put the national interest above their own narrow interests”.

It is uncertain if Thaksin’s laments will have any effect on his intended audience –the international community and his erstwhile supporters in Thailand. As it stands, the world does not seem to be overly concerned, only eager for Thailand to promptly hold its elections and get a move on with things. Even the “champion of democracy” –US President George Bush said of Thai PM Surayud Chulanont, “He is a good guy and he has my sympathy…he said the election is coming… I am happy with that.” (20 September 2007)

Sources:

Kingdom sharply divided on after-effects of the coup (Nation, 20 September 2007)

Gen Sonthi: No one was a hero in last year's coup (Bangkok Post, 20 September 2007)

Thaksin's rant 'hypocritical' (Bangkok Post, 20 September 2007)

'To Return to a Democratic Thailand' (Wall Street Journal, 19 September 2007)

Thaksin slams junta on anniversary (Bangkok Post, 19 September 2007)

CNS to make public its achievements (Bangkok Post, 19 September 2007)

Heaps of praise for junta after 1-year (Bangkok Post, 19 September 2007)

US president's happy Thailand is holding national poll (Nation, 19 September 2007)

Heaps of praise for junta after 1-year (Bangkok Post, 19 September 2007)

Regional perspective: One year after September 19: bad casting (Nation, 17 September 2007)

Year of Army rule 'has failed on most fronts' (Nation, 17 September 2007)