Daring to dream of an end to coups

Daring to dream of an end to coups

A soldier stands guard near the Democracy Monument on Sept 22, 2006 following the military coup on Sept 19 of that year. The Future Forward Party last week proposed a Lower House panel be set up to explore mechanisms to prevent coups. POST TODAY
A soldier stands guard near the Democracy Monument on Sept 22, 2006 following the military coup on Sept 19 of that year. The Future Forward Party last week proposed a Lower House panel be set up to explore mechanisms to prevent coups. POST TODAY

The Future Forward Party (FFP) has a big dream that no other party in Thailand dares or cares to dream. That is the dream that this country will one day be free from coups for good.

It's wishful thinking, an ideal that will never be achieved. These are the immediate reactions of those who are against the party.

One of the critics of the FFP's ambitious dream initiated by the party's secretary-general, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, known as the party's chief ideologue, is Lt Gen Nanthadet Meksawat, former chief of the Special Operations Centre of the National Security Centre.

The retired general accused the FFP of being hypocrites, noting the party is religiously following the political path of the Khana Ratsadon (People's Party), a group of young military officers and officials who staged a coup in 1932 to transform Thailand, then known as Siam, from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy.

Lt Gen Nanthadet said the Khana Ratsadon started a revolution with the use of military force without public participation and core members of the group eventually engaged in violent power seizures among themselves for 25 years until the demise of the last member, Field Marshal Pibulsongkram.

That coup in 1932 by the Khana Ratsadon became a model for all the following coups in Thailand from before World War II until today, said the retired general.

Whether Lt Gen Nanthadet's criticism is right or wrong or biased against the Future Forward Party, let us open up our mind and listen to Mr Piyabutr's narrative about putting an end to coups before dismissing it outright as wishful thinking.

Mr Piyabutr said one of the problems that has led to a coup being staged every 5-6 years is that the court of law in this country has never accepted for consideration a case filed against coup-makers by ordinary people.

This is on the grounds they are not the "injured party" as defined by the Criminal Code despite the fact that staging a coup amounts to a sedition liable to death or life imprisonment in accordance with Section 113 of the Criminal Code -- a section which, strangely, has never been invoked against coup-makers as they have issued an amnesty law to exonerate themselves from the high crime as a standard practice after each putsch.

Instead, those who dare to challenge the coup-makers in court faced retaliation such as exemplified by the case in 1971 of three former MPs -- Uthai Pimchaichon, Boonkerd Hirunkham and Anan Pakprapai -- who were jailed by the regime of then-prime minister Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.

They spent several years behind bars before the government of Sanya Dhammasakdi granted them an amnesty.

Mr Piyabutr suggested that a clause must be added to Section 113 and the constitution to guarantee the public's right to file charges against coup-makers in court.

He also proposed military reform to instil into the minds of military officers the concept of supremacy of civilian government and "re-education" of the public to create an awareness that a coup is not a normal thing that they must accept, but a high crime that must be dealt with.

International pressure should also be brought to bear to prevent coups by making Thailand ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which will make it possible for coup-makers to be tried by the court.

Mr Piyabutr's first approach to achieve the dream is for the House to set up a panel to formally study means to prevent coups. Wishful thinking or not, it is worth a try.

After 13 coups over the course of 88 years since 1932 or an average of one coup every six years, it is a time to say no to coups whatever the reasons.

It is also the time for the people to say no to a corrupt government -- whether a civilian or a military one.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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