A chicken vendor in Bangkok said of the coup: It’s just the news. Tomorrow everything will be back to normal. Everything is OK because we have a king.” (The Australian, 21 September, 2006.) While there was little condemnation and much support in Thailand, Western governments issued standard, but measured condemnations of the coup, probably more for the domestic audience than to have any effect in the country concerned. The first governments to rush in with this formula seemed to be the EU, which is not a country, Australia and New Zealand. That must have left the Generals shaking in their boots in Bangkok.
Thailand is not Australia. It is not one of the world’s oldest democracies. To expect that Thailand should follow Australian constitutional practice is not realistic. And whatever we think of the coup, it has been achieved with a minimum of force. It cannot, for example be compared with the absolute horror in Dili recently. Thailand will no doubt return to the path of democracy; their wise and benevolent King will ensure that. This is a Thai way of dealing with massive corruption and incompetence, particularly in dealing with the Muslim insurgency in the South.
As Greg Sheridan, one of the nation’s leading diplomatic correspondents, wrote in The Australian, on 21 September, 2006, Thaksin had managed to put himself at loggerheads with three pillars of Thai society and political power: the people of Bangkok, the King and the army. He says that the causes of this did not reflect well on the former prime minister. Corruption was widespread, and the highly irregular sale of his family firm, Shin Corp, for several billions dollars, seemed to many Thais to involve a serious conflict of interest. Mr. Sheridan writes that there is an old saying that Thai governments are made in the countryside and unmade in Bangkok. And this is what happened to Thaksin, who,” “totally lost the respect of the citizens of Bangkok, even though he maintained the support of the countryside. As a result, in April this year there were huge anti-Thaksin demonstrations.”
Mr Sheridan writes that finally, “even the King, the revered and much-loved Bhumibol Adulyadej, intervened to bring the earlier crisis to a close.” But there is no evidence that the King had any role in the coup. In the next paragraph, Mr. Sheridan seems to be saying this. He points out that in the country the people are undoubtedly more fond of their King than Taksin. He writes that “the King tries to be as neutral as possible in Thai politics, only intervening when absolutely necessary. The signals of disapproval that he sent out about Thaksin therefore were subtle and restrained. They were clear enough in Bangkok, but less clear in the countryside.”
But indicating disapproval does not mean that the King wanted a coup, rather than say, Taksin changing his ways or standing down. This was hardly a case of the King paraphrasing Henry II and saying publicly: “Who will rid me of this troublesome prime minister?” In any event, Mr. Sheridan writes, it had become impossible for Thaksin to continue. Some think he was afraid to resign because of the possibility of inquiries and action concerning many of his activities, including the sale of the family company.
Mr. Sheridan points out that Thaksin had also “fatally fallen out” with the military. This was not only his attempts to stack the military higher echelons with supporters who might follow his corrupt practices. It was also because of his mishandling of the Islamist insurgency in the South, which has resulted in 1700 deaths since the beginning of 2004. Just before the coup, terrorist bombings killed four, including a Canadian, and injured 60. For the first time tourism seems to have been targeted. Mr. Sheridan says the best intelligence assessment is that the terrorists are not associated with any global jihadist group. Mr. Sheridan says that until Thaksin miscalculated, the conflict had subsided to much lower levels of violence. In my view one of the worst examples of the Thaksin government’s mishandling of the situation, one which was seen around the world, was the death by suffocation of about 70 young Muslims who were forced to lie on top of one another in a police or military truck.
Mr. Sheridan says that the Thai army “led by General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin- coincidentally a Muslim – wants to try to re-create a political dialogue with the insurgents and try to address the legitimate grievances that the insurgents have exploited. Thaksin, in contrast, was determined to pursue a gung-ho, force and only force approach that was ineffective and was making things worse."
Noting that the army has promised it will soon have new elections and a return to full democracy, Mr. Sheridan observes: “No democrat can support a military coup but Thai coups are the gentlest in the world, and this one may conceivably provide a path to something better”
With the King exercising his influence, there can be little doubt that this will be the result.