Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Coup in Thailand

As mentioned previously, earlier today there was a coup in Thailand. The following is a sort of response to this and some thoughts on the events leading up to it.

First up, I've been periodically keeping an eye on the news in Thailand thanks to wikinews, which has a relatively high amount of news from countries which other news sources tend to neglect like Thailand. Thus I have been following the story of Prime Minister Thaksin and his governments fall into disfavour.

The situation has it's roots in Thaksin's apparent use of his power as Prime Minister for his personal and family gain. Thaksin and his family were major shareholders in one of Thailand's big telecommunications companies, and just before they sold out to a foreign company the tax law was changed so that the profit they made from the sale was much larger than it would have been before the change. This is the most blatant of Thaksin's acts and the one that brought a great amount of pressure on his government.

To try and defuse the situation, Thaksin decided to call an early election, hoping to get a new mandate from the people to continue to lead the Thai government. Unfortunately for him, the two main opposition parties boycotted the election because they believed it would be run unfairly by Thaksin. Thus even though Thaksin's party ran unopposed in a large number of electorates, they did not get a large proportion of the vote. Lots of people didn't vote. In Thailand, voters have the choice of voting for none of the candidates, and where a candidate doesn't get a certain share of the total vote, they won't be elected even if they have the most votes (I can't remember if this only applies to electorates with only one candidate). This happened in a number of electorates, leaving Thaksin in a bind as to form a new government requires a meeting of the full parliament, which at the time didn't exist because some electorates didn't have an elected representative.

Since then, the Thai courts have decided that the election was invalid and that a new one, with the opposition parties involved was to be held in around October.

This brings us pretty much up to today, where this morning the head of the military sent some tanks (14 according to the wikipedia article) in to Bangkok to surround the main government offices and take captive the deputy prime minister. Thaksin was out of the country (at a UN meeting) and will doubtless be staying away for some time.

The military leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin issued a statement to the Thai population after he had siezed control (you can read it thanks to the BBC), stating that the military control was only intended to be temporary and power will be returned to the democratic process as soon as possible. The same statement also prohibited gatherings of more than 5 people, and a few other things.

This is about the twenty-third attempted coup (I think about twelve of those were succesful) Thailand has had since the 1930s, which is a pretty high number. Most countries have had zero, and only a few have busted into double digits. Predictably, foreign responses have been negative, saying that democratic rule should be restores as soon as possible. News coverage has varied. I've been watching CNNj (the only english channel on the tv in my hotel) and the fact they've concentrated on is the subsequent drop in the value of the Thai Baht and the impact on the Thai economy. The BBC has had a more political view of the matter. There are also a few blogs from locals on events (here, here, and here).

The one factor I haven't mentioned yet, and will probably have a big effect on the outcome is the Thai king. He is apparently close with the general in charge of all this, and is a significant if indirect player in Thai politics. I think the stronger he is for a return to democracy, the quicker it will happen.

Now for some opinion. Military coups are bad. Very bad. Military rule has historically been bad for the country, bad for the people, but good for the few in charge. A military should be controlled by the people, and only used for the benefit of the people. Depriving the people of their liberty and elected government is not doing this. Also, constitutional change should not be done at the point of a gun. Independence sure, but once a country is established, violence should not be needed to enact such changes.

Also, most of the complaints have been against Thaksin and his government, and not against the current system of government, so there seems no justification for the way they have wiped the Thai political system clean (parliament, senate, high court, etc).

One reassuring point is that so far there has been no violence involved in the coup.

End Post
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