Coup anniversary fizzer

Coup anniversary fizzer

Soldiers 'failed to deliver' on takeover promises, scholars say

Dawn of the coup: A soldier stands guard near Democracy Monument after the Sept 19, 2006 military takeover. (Bangkok Post photo)
Dawn of the coup: A soldier stands guard near Democracy Monument after the Sept 19, 2006 military takeover. (Bangkok Post photo)

Thailand has endured two coups over the past 15 years and both revolve around former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his political network.

The 2014 power seizure led by then army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha followed months of street rallies triggered by the Yingluck government's amnesty bill that could have led to Thaksin's return.

Before that, the 2006 putsch led by then army chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin put an end to street protests sparked by a conflict of interest over the controversial sale of Shin Corp shares by Shinawatra siblings to Singapore's Temasek for 73 billion baht.

Marking the 15th anniversary of the Sept 19, 2006 coup, the Bangkok Post asked political scientists to share their views on the event and how it has reshaped the political landscape.

2014 takeover a watershed

Stithorn Thananithichote, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, said that to see the implications of the 2006 coup one should revisit the country's political environment before the coup.

Thailand witnessed major democratic developments after implementation of the 1997 charter, known as a people-centred and progressive charter, he said.

The 2001 general election witnessed the rise of a major political party that won the polls with a clear mandate to form a stable government.

However, public optimism soon soured. The country's leader was seen as having overwhelming power and the government was so stable that checks and balance mechanisms failed to work.

"We heard about a parliamentary dictatorship and how the country's leader couldn't be scrutinised.

"After the coup, the 1997 charter was seen by some as being 'ahead of its time'. So the 2007 charter which was written after the coup was more like a compromise with half of the Senate being selected," he said.

Mr Stithorn said the 2006 coup seems to have divided people into two camps. One believes the 1997 charter would have yielded political reforms by now had it not been superseded and the other predicts the country would have been dominated by a single party system had the coup not taken place.

He said the coupmakers behind in both events sought to meddle with the political system after stepping into power. This led to political conflicts and street rallies as people learned more about their rights and freedom.

In his view, the 2006 power seizure opened a window of opportunity for military intervention in politics, after soldiers stepped away following the 1992 popular uprising.

The coupmakers had also learned from the past and made adjustments as they went along, he said.

In the 2006 event, the political transition was quick and the armed forces quickly returned to barracks as they knew their status was not internationally acceptable.

However, after the latest coup in 2014, the coupmakers came to realise they could stay long in power by avoiding total control.

Even though they seized power and restricted political rights, they did not bluntly suppress freedom of speech, and the media was allowed some room to do its job.

Key independent agencies instrumental to performing checks and balances were also retained and much of national administration focused on social and economic development.

"The 2006 coup opened the door for the military to step back into politics after soldiers left the scene alone for 14 years following the 1992 uprising. They came back with better moves to stay in power.

"It is clear the 2006 coup was a watershed event for the 2014 coup and today's coupmasters filled in the gaps seen in 2006 takeover," he said.

No change for the better

Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said no significant democratic development has taken place over the past 15 years despite expectations that coups would lead to something better.

Policy-oriented corruption, seen as rife under the Thaksin administration, has never been tackled while national reforms pledged by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have not materialised.

Instead, the political changes that followed the two military takeovers have resulted in guided or managed democracy and the 2014 coup is a form of democratic regression, he said.

"The clear change is the greater role played by the military for 15 years. The military has stepped back into the political realm.

"Nobody expected to see them back after the 1991 seizure, but we have seen two coups," he said.

Mr Yutthaporn said the political environment has worsened with curbs on people's rights and political divisions intensifying after the 2014 military takeover.

In the 2006 coup, society was divided between supporters and opponents of Thaksin while the current conflict has touched on political ideology and could be a tough challenge to overcome.

He said the young generation has grown up amid political rows and street protests. Their political views are diverse and differ from those of the youngsters who came before them.

However, the country's political system has failed to keep up.

Political rallies have changed and they are not limited to street demonstrations. There are also social media platforms where young people air their opinions on social issues.

"It may be more difficult to find solutions because our social structure is unable to accommodate it.

"It is an important issue. If we do nothing, we may come to experience what is known as a failed state."

Another coup is possible because the democratic system is not firmly established and military reforms have yet to take place.

"The biggest question is what they will do next after seizing power," he said.

According to the academic, the way the military seized power has also changed.

In the 2006, flowers were presented to soldiers as a gesture of support while in the 2014 seizure, the military played the role of mediator between the pro- and anti-government camps and took control when talks failed.

"However, the next one may not be as easy as the previous ones. We've gone through major changes," he said.

Car mob rally to mark anniversary

Nattawut Saikuar, a co-leader of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), will organise a car mob today to mark 15th anniversary of the 2006 coup.

He said the rally is a symbolic movement also intended to convey to the public that the Sept 19, 2006 and the May 22, 2014 coups, and Gen Prayut's clinging to power are connected.

The rally will start at Asok intersection about 2pm with the procession of cars, taxis and motorcycles will head for the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue.

An online seminar also will be organised and key speakers will include prominent social critic Sulak Sivaraksa.

Seksakol Atthawong, an assistant minister at the Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, warned Mr Nattawut not to exploit the car rally as an attempt to stir up unrest.

Mr Seksakol accused Mr Nattawut of serving Thaksin who now aims to oust the government, not fighting for the public as claimed.

"Rallies led by Mr Nattawut are losing steam as more people know what is what," he said.

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