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Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Coup rumours and crying 'wolf'
Bangkok has, in the past week, been abuzz with the story of a pending coup spread by a couple of rumour-mongers, just as the political temperature has edged up with more street protests. But is there a real threat of a coup against the government at this time?
The Thai military has always seen itself as the sole guardian of the three main pillars – the Nation, the Religion and the Monarchy.
At any time, if the military strongly feels that if any of the three key pillars is threatened, it feels obliged to act to put an end to the threat - which means it believes it can legitimately resort to the use of force, or stage a coup.
In the mindset of many senior Thai military officers, the right to stage a coup in order to protect the three main pillars is as legitimate as the civilians’ right to free expression and freedom of movement.
Hence, it comes as no surprise that, every now and then, a legitimate government has been ousted by the military under the pretext of protecting the three pillars. Also, it shouldn’t be surprising that a coup rumour can spread like wildfire, even if the rumour is completely baseless and ridiculous -- like the one which was spread by Jatuporn Prompan, a Puea Thai list MP and co-leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, and Puea Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit.
Quoting his usual "reliable" but always unnamed sources, Mr Jatuporn claimed that there was a plot being hatched to oust the Abhisit government by a group of army officers allegedly led by a five-star general whose first name began with the initial "D", because they were very upset with the way the government has been handling the border conflict with Cambodia and felt it had put Thailand at a great disadvantage.
He also claimed that some 3,000 troops had been put on alert in preparation for the coup.
Echoing Mr Jatuporn’s rumour-mongering, Prompong suggested Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva negotiate with leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to settle their three demands -- revoke the 2000 MoU on boundary demarcation with Cambodia, withdraw from Unesco’s World Heritage Committee, and forcibly evict Cambodian troops and civilians from disputed areas claimed by Thailand.
In other words, Mr Prompong appeared to suggest that the PAD might want the government to be overthrown by the military.
Can these two men be trusted to speak the truth? Are their words even worthy of being listened to?
Personally, I doubt it - even though I do not rule out the possibility of a coup because this is never far from the mindset of many military top brass, despite their pledge of support for democracy. But certainly not now, and certainly not against the Abhisit government which has been so generous with the military as far as budget allocations are concerned.
If the border conflict with Cambodia is cited to justify a coup against the government for failing to stand up to Phnom Penh, then the army itself should accept partial blame for being lenient as well.
Take for instance, the stone tablet erected by the Cambodians to claim sovereignty over the disputed area around the old Preah Vihear ancient temple. The Thai army was fully aware of the presence of the insulting sign for some time before it became a public issue, but did nothing about it until the story hit the news pages and the prime minister instructed the military to do something about it.
Staging a coup is a treasonable offence. If Mr Jatuporn really believed that his source was highly credible and had never failed him, why did he not dare to fully name "General D" and instead left it to his audience to speculate who it could be? Is he too afraid of facing a defamation charge; more than he is concerned about speaking the whole truth and saving democracy from some unnamed, self-righteous military usurpers?
It is fortunate that most people are smart enough not to fall victim to rumour-mongers like Mr Jatuporn and Mr Prompong. An opinion survey by Abac University showed that more than 80 percent of respondents did not believe there would be a coup in the foreseeable future.
There are people out there who strongly believe that a coup is the solution to the political illness afflicting this country. It is also true that the coup mindset will not disappear from the ranks of our military in the near future.
But for now, there is simply no reason whatsoever to justify a coup. Even those senior officers who were often overheard by reporters talking about a coup would find it hard to clearly justify such an illegal action.
And spreading rumours to the contrary is just like the shepherd boy crying "wolf" just to get attention.
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