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Thailand's coup: Not such a smart move after all?

Updated On: Sep 29, 2006

After the euphoria of a peaceful coup, the cracks have promptly started to show.

The people are unhappy with the military's highhandedness and apparent inefficiency in restoring democracy.  And they are starting to make their displeasure known. 

Public condemnation of the loss of rights and calls of “power to the people” are increasing. Anti-coup protestors have defied the junta's ban on political demonstrations with another held at Chulalongkorn Universityon Wednesday. Political scientist Prapas Pintobtaeng declared that the rights of the rural poor are being eradicated, saying, “Political space for the rural poor is disappearing, they have to cancel all assemblies… the restriction of liberty for the middle class may not last long but for the poor, it's likely to be long-term.” Legal experts also bemoan the need to draft a new constitution to replace that of 1997, saying that it is a waste of time, effort and resources as the 1997 constitution contains all that Thailand needs and merely tweaking it will suffice.

Some Thais have organized themselves into a body of political activists -the Confederation for Democracy (CFD) -and have called the Council for Democratic Reform (CDR) to “lift martial law and the ban on political gatherings, and to restore citizen freedom of communication, information access, and other basic human rights”, the Bangkok Post reported. In addition, it states general elections should be held as soon as possible as the Election Commission is in place. Also, the 1997 people's constitution should be amended accordingly as a temporary charter rather than using the 1991 constitution drafted by the former military coup makers. As to the new constitution, the CFD says all Thais must have access to participation “via their representatives”. The CFD also made a bold request in calling for “structural reform of the armed forces to make military personnel `professional soldiers' who will never again become involved in politics or stage a coup d'etat”.

The CDR, however, is intent on keeping a tight rein on things. Rumours are rife that a former soldier (touted to be Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont) will be the interim premier. Another top contender is Supachai Panichpakdi, secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad). However, both are understandably reticent on giving out information. General Sonthi Boonyaratglin told AFP on Tuesday that the “junta would be transformed into a council of security ministers” to work alongside the new government after the interim prime minister is announced. “It's necessary to keep the council so that there is no loophole for the executive branch,” he added.

Meanwhile, some of the 58 persons whom the CDR chose as advisors have overcome their `surprise' appointments on economics, foreign affairs, ethics and good governance, and reconciliation and social justice. They “expressed willingness to work with the coup-makers while urging those who appeared reluctant to… give it a try”, the Bangkok Post reported. Thawee Suraritthikul, dean of Sukhothai Thammathirat University's Political Science Faculty, who was appointed to the committee on reconciliation and social justice, encouraged the others to cooperate with the CDR as it was “able to compromise and were open-minded”. This would be “better than isolating themselves and imagining what is happening.”

The junta may be slowly realizing that it has bitten off more than it can chew. Handling state affairs is no small task -encompassing the political, legal, economic, as well as quelling domestic unrest and international displeasure -things not within the traditional scope of the army. Expectations have been raised, and if not met would only lead to more dissent and unhappiness.  Already, the Southern unrest has picked up with bombings last week and early this week, casting doubt that the violence will ease with Gen. Sonthi in charge. Arson attacks on schools in the Kamphaeng Phet province (a pro-Thai Rak Thai party area) have also been carried out. Thais are worried about the 30Bt healthcare scheme, while others call for investigation into Somchai Neelaphaijit's disappearance.  

Meanwhile, the Thai Ambassador Laxanachantorn Laohaphan is busy assuring the UN General Assembly that the junta will enable “Thailand[to] emerge as a stronger and more vibrant democracy”.

Things look to be more complicated on the international front as Washington prepares to champion former Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan as the next UN Secretary-General against the incumbent Thai candidate Surakiart Sathirathai (who is currently in New York lobbying for the post) because “he is Asian, a moderate Muslim and… well known and respected in the international community”.

Sources:

Surayud tight-lipped on PM job offer reports (Bangkok Post, 28 September 2006)

New advisers to CDR urge 'reluctant' to give it a try (Bangkok Post, 28 September 2006)

Activists demand fast return to democracy (Bangkok Post, 28 September 2006)

Draft charter loopholes can 'resurrect Thaksin regime' (Bangkok Post, 28 September 2006)

Thaksin's return 'a threat' (Nation, 28 September 2006)

CDR backing sought for health reforms (Nation, 28 September 2006)

DSI gets serious over Somchai (Nation, 28 September 2006)

Thailand seeks to reassure UN (Bangkok Post, 28 September 2006)

Anti-coup protesters again defy ban on assemblies (Nation, 28 September 2006)

Junta loathe to relax its grip (Nation, 28 September 2006)

School fires 'may be linked to coup' (Nation, 28 September 2006)

Four shot dead in Yala and Pattani (Nation, 28 September 2006)

Surin gets backing for top UN job (Nation, 28 September 2006)

Thai junta to work alongside new PM: coup leader (Nation, 27 September 2006)