Coup is not the solution

Coup is not the solution

Ever since last December, commanders of the armed forces and its branches have dropped hints, along with the occasional threat, that they might “take action” to solve the political crisis. There is no reason to doubt the good intentions of these men, nor their loyalty. There is, however, little reason to trust military intervention. It is almost certain that a coup would make things worse.

Military officers, in particular army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, have said repeatedly since 2007 they do not want another coup. Gen Prayuth is realistically the only general with the power to conduct or to give a military takeover the go-ahead. He has stated several times he is tired of answering the media’s questions about a coup. But his statements and body language often leave his audience wondering.

It began late last December, with the campaign by Suthep Thaugsuban’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) barely a month old. Gen Prayuth had recently talked with Mr Suthep and with the prime minister at that time, Yingluck Shinawatra. He said the military would remain neutral in politics. Then he added, “But we will not abandon the people”.

He has continued that sort of vacillation until now. Amidst a major escalation last week in rumour-mongering, Gen Prayuth denied a coup was imminent. On the other hand: “Trust the military... we will be the last resort.” It is hardly reasonable of the general to blame the media for badgering him after his series of confusing statements.

But the army commander is technically wrong on several issues. Most importantly, the national armed forces should never assume a “neutral” position between the government and its opposition. The military, its officers and men serve under government orders. If the government issues illegal orders, the military also should never be neutral. Commanders ultimately serve the nation, and are sworn to obey all legal orders, and to refuse those that are illegal. The armed forces do not have the luxury of neutrality.

The greatest problem is that Gen Prayuth feels the army is capable of serving “the people” as an end game to political battles. Another military takeover would be the worst possible “solution” to this crisis. The 2006-07 military regime overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra. Rather than end a crisis over elections, it began and escalated a crisis the nation is still battling today.

After the overthrow of Thaksin, the junta had an unbroken record of failure on every subject it touched. The economy suffered badly, tourists stayed away, foreign diplomatic response was universally hostile. The constitution produced by the junta’s assembly is still the centre of criticism, and the courts created under the military regime have drawn much hostile reaction, including last week’s dismissal of the prime minister. Even the military’s intervention in the 2010 street violence was a major catastrophe, resulting in the worst casualties of any such street uprising in the nation’s history.

The people of Thailand respect and honour the service of all branches of the Royal Thai Armed Forces. These are truly selfless men and women, sworn to uphold the dignity and security of the country, and dedicated to this task. One cannot change the past, but the army commander and other ranking brass can affect the future.

Gen Prayuth is fully aware of the downside of a coup. It is wise to remember that in the midst of a terrible situation, things can get worse. All the military leaders should make it crystal clear there is no chance of a military coup, under any circumstances.

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