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Thailand's coup: 'The army chief should know better'

Thailand's coup: 'The army chief should know better'
Published 23 May 2014 

The quote that heads this post is from a hard-hitting and critical editorial in today's Bangkok Post, which really says it all at the broad level of analysis.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha was a leading figure in the 2006 coup that ousted the Thaksin Government, yet that coup and the events that followed showed conclusively that the Thai military is neither equipped to run the country nor possessed of particular wisdom in seeking to install a government that will attract wide popular support.

So why has the military acted? Considered in the most generous light, it is possible to believe that the coup was mounted to prevent a continuation of sporadic violence between the contending political groups which could have widened into a more serious confrontation, taking many lives. But the military's actions are just as likely to provoke greater violence, as the Red Shirts, who will now more than ever feel disenfranchised, consider whether peaceful demonstrations can ever serve their interests.

The very concept of democratic government is under attack in Thailand as the actions of the military appear to give support to the People's Democratic Reform Committee led by Suthep Thaugsubahn.

Just as the Duke of Wellington in the nineteenth century was opposed to the developments of railways since they would allow the common people to travel, Suthep and his supporters really do not believe that the Red Shirts have the same right to vote and to determine who governs the country as do the supporters of what Duncan McCargo has called the 'network monarchy'. [fold]

Making this attitude all the more worrying is the fact that Thai society has changed dramatically over the past three decades, with the population in the rural regions better educated and more determined to play a role in the political process. And while it is true that the Red Shirts gain their greatest support from these rural regions, it is wrong to describe them as simply discontented peasants. There are Red Shirt supporters in the outer regions of Bangkok as well as in the industrialised areas to the east and southeast of the capital who cannot be classified as rural peasants. Even academic opinion is divided; it would be wrong to think that it is all on the side of the middle-class opponents of the Red Shirt movement.

Lying behind recent developments is concern for the future of the monarchy, given the advanced age of the king. Discussion in Thailand is handicapped by the draconian lese-majeste law, but it is an unsettling issue, as supporters of old ways and old values fear that a future Red Shirt government might devalue an institution that has played an important part in Thailand's recent history.

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