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Thailand – more doubts and less certainty with interim PM and “restrictive” constitution

Updated On: Oct 03, 2006

Thailand’s coup-makers are waking up to the fact that deposing off Thaksin is much simpler than ruling the country. 

After much rumours as to who would be the interim Prime Minister, they have settled for someone from their own “backyard”. 

As Thailand embraces its newly appointed interim Prime Minister, Gen. Surayud Chulanont, which some commentators said may be reassuring to the domestic audience but not the international observers, it has time and again try to fend off condemnation of the coup. The UN, international community, media and increasingly, local academics, have widely deplored the hijacking of democracy. Already Thailand has to contend with the loss of US$24 million in military aid from the US and the latter is reconsidering the “annual Cobra Gold war games it co-sponsors with Thailand”.

According to the Nation’s editorial piece, Surayud has a “Herculean” task of restoring full democracy in a year whilst trying to forge national reconciliation, end the Southern conflict and steer the kingdom to a new constitution. However, Surayud’s credentials as incorruptible and efficient, and his royal endorsement cannot erase the fact that Thais are starting to get impatient.

Even if Thaksin is “licking his wounds” after “losing the shirt off his back” in London, he must be smug that those who dethroned him are starting to look presumptuous and foolish. Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun’s comment that the Thai coup is “different” from those elsewhere (like Africa) and that foreigners misunderstand the domestic exigencies. Gen. Winai Phattiyakul, secretary-general of the Council for National Security (CNS), has also argued that the coup was a “detour” and not a “U-turn for democracy” as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said. Both defences sound weak and silly in the face of fact.

The Nation commented that the coup-makers and “their Bangkok supporters are marooned on an island such that … as the rural mass, probably unsurprised but massively resentful at this treatment of the first political leader they had embraced as their own”. The ramifications of the coup are great –it will be difficult to convince the rural folk of the importance of democracy, while Thailand’s democratic credentials plummet internationally. In the Nation’s terms, “[Thailand], the beacon of democracy in Southeast Asia… [has] bombed itself back into the political stone age”.

Robbing the people of their choice in Thaksin does not reconcile the country. Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University commented in The Nation.  He sarcastically remarked that “the military should have done was to set up a political party to contest at the general elections since their “80% public support” would have given them a landslide victory over the Thai Rak Thai party, and that the Democrat party had no substantial support base and abstained from the last elections.

The Nation predicts the new government will fail as no regime in Thai history has ever had any success if the economy grows at less than 5 per cent. The economic forecast for 2007 is dismal as world conditions slow, investment in Thailandget delayed, and tourism slackens. Moreover, their Bangkokian support will dwindle as unemployment rises and tussles over the new constitution take centre-stage. Public anger will also rise in other quarters of society as “old-guard health bureaucrats have begun mobilising to kill the Bt30-per-visit healthcare scheme by administrative carpet-bombing, and fiscal conservatives are plotting to wipe away all the Thaksin government's social schemes”.

Smokescreens in the form of uncovering corruption will not bring respite. The Nation does not mince its words, saying “such forces are stupid and insensitive enough to ignore the political consequences”. The deputy editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, Colum Murphy, poses the troubling question, asking, “Even if the junta can deliver free elections within a year, what guarantee is there that the same social conflicts won’t resurface?”

When that happens, it is doubtful what could put Thailand on the road to democracy as elections, the military and royal interventions have all failed the people.

Sources:

Surayud assumes reformist mantle (Nation, 2 October 2006)

The CNS will only help itself by being open (Nation, 2 October 2006)

Our coup is different: Anand (Nation, 2 October 2006)

Shinawatra siblings may be slapped with Bt5 bn in tax, fines (Nation, 2 October 2006)

Thaksin gambled and lost his shirt (Nation, 2 October 2006)

Poll should precede new charter: law experts (Nation, 2 October 2006)

US considers fate of war games (Bangkok Post, 2 October 2006)

Coup leaders should have set up party (Nation, 27 September 2006)

Bangkok Steps Backward (Asian Wall Street Journal, 21 September 2006)