Inconvenient Truths About Thailand’s Coup

The coup of the Pheu Thai government has drawn condemnation from the international community. However, many people are failing to realize many inconvenient truths about the Thai coup that show why it is more justified than what someone like John Kerry may say. 

“This coup has no justification,” said John Kerry in the aftermath of Thailand’s coup that ousted a Thaksin-backed government. “We call for an immediate return to civil rule and early elections.” This came after months of insistence from the USA that Thailand stick to ‘democratic principles’ and hold elections that ‘represent the will of the Thai people’.

I believe John Kerry may have forgotten that it was he himself who spoke very passionately about how elections do not necessarily lead to democracy. It comes as a sharp contrast with what the Western media has been saying about Thailand for the past six months, but the following passage was indeed said by Kerry:

A democracy is not defined solely by an election. You can have a democratically elected government, but you don’t have democratically-instituted reforms that actually give you a democracy, a full, practicing, functioning democracy. And what you have in many places is a general election, a popular election, absent reform, present with great corruption, great cronyism and a huge distortion of democratic process.

Viktor Yanukovych

At first glance, most observers of Thailand who did not know the context of this speech may have guessed that he was talking about the failure of electoral democracy in Thailand to form a democratic government dedicated to good governance. This is not the case. This speech was given in the aftermath of the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President who became the target of protests after he backed out of an EU trade deal and instead went into the embrace of Vladimir Putin. Kerry was saying that the ousting of Yanukovych was perfectly justifiable because Ukraine was a flawed democracy where elections could truly represent the will of the people.

It is an inconvenient truth, then, that in Thailand there are also popular elections, ‘absent reform, present with great corruption, great cronyism and a huge distortion of the democratic process.’ The government of the Thaksin-handpicked Prime Ministers Yingluck Shinawatra and Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan was, similarly to Yanukovych’s, ousted after months of massive, record-breaking protests from ordinary people who were simply fed up with the insane levels of corruption and undemocratic behavior of the Thaksin-backed governments.

Yingluck Shinawatra

Like Yanukovych, Yingluck won a democratic election at the ballot box- and then miserably failed to act in office in accordance with democratic principles. I have dealt with the innumerable failings of the Yingluck government in previous posts; major examples of undemocratic behavior that comes to mind include the usage of populist policies (ones that will break the country’s budget, particularly) to buy votes from voters, rejection of checks and balances like the judiciary, or completely ignoring any voices of dissent in Parliament and ramming through unwanted legislature, like the Amnesty Bill, at 3 AM at night. As Kerry said, a democratically elected government doesn’t always give you democracy.

The US Secretary of State suggested himself in his speech of ‘reforms’. Thailand’s military coup will allow exactly for reforms to take place, so that repeated failures of electoral democracy will not have to hinder Thailand’s development. It is impressively hypocritical for Kerry to agree with the ousting of one democratically-elected leader because ‘elections don’t always lead to democracy’, and then condemn another one as having ‘no justification’ despite the fact that the behavior of the two governments were not dissimilar.

Mohammed Morsi

Here’s another quote from Kerry, this time from when he was commenting on the Egyptian military coup which ousted the country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi:

The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence. And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgement – so far. To run the country, there’s a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy.

Here he absolutely refuses to call the Egyptian coup a coup; it had to happen because the country was descending into chaos and violence. Never mind that Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected; the military’s act was effectively a ‘restoration of democracy’.

The brazen hypocrisy of John Kerry is only illustrated further when we consider what has been Thailand’s own descent into chaos and violence in the past few months. In the duration of the protests by the PDRC, which lasted from November to May, 28 people were killed and hundreds more wounded. Grenades were thrown into PDRC marches. Drive-by shootings happened around rally sites. Allied groups like NSPRT and a group led by the monk Buddha Issara experienced almost nightly bombings.  Add this with the prospect of a civil war that could possibly have tore apart the country. The increasingly belligerent behavior of the pro-Thaksin UDD red shirts meant that Thailand was verging on a bloody confrontation between pro-government and anti-government protesters. Meanwhile, the biased police force failed to keep order and dealt selectively, almost exclusively targeting anti-government protesters.  Thailand was on a downward spiral towards complete disorder.

To say there is no justification for Thailand’s coup is, indeed, completely untrue.

Picture of Surin Taratin, an anti-govt leader who was fatally shot during the protests

And so it is another inconvenient truth that ever since the military-installed National Council for Peace and Order took power, all attacks have ceased. There were no more nightly bombings. The two protest groups were immediately ordered to return home, and so bloody confrontation was avoided. Peace returned to the country. In addition, the military has managed to make major arrests all across the country, detaining militants who have been stockpiling arms. Plots for a ‘Khon

Weapon stockpiles captured after martial law

Kaen model’ were discovered and averted, where major acts of terrorism would have been conducted in Khon Kaen and then repeated throughout the provinces.

The junta itself is showing itself to be governing competently- perhaps much more so than Yingluck ever was in the two years of her premiership. Her rice pledging scheme, which caused an estimated loss of $15 billion (which is why many say Thailand will not even notice the United States’s suspension of a mere $10 million worth of military assistance), left many of the farmers in heavy debt due to the government being unable to pay the farmers. The junta has now paid most of the farmers.

Some of the policies of Yingluck’s government can be said to possibly being beneficial towards the country. However, it is the way that Yingluck wanted them to be implemented that was corrupted. For example, plans for a dual-track train should have been completed long ago. A two page plan was presented for an insane 5 trillion baht infrastructure bill. The junta is now reviewing these plans and finding more transparent, efficient and affordable ways of implementing the infrastructure plans. Projects that had absolutely no use, like the unsuccessful One Tablet PC Per Child project which was solely a populist policy aimed at securing votes, not for any long term educational benefit, are now being scrapped.

Pragmatic supporters of the coup

Finally, it is often said that a ‘climate of fear’ has swept through Thailand after the coup. Yes, it cannot be denied that freedom of expression is being curbed, and that the military is allowed to detain anyone without a warrant. There has been small anti-coup protests that have sprang up periodically in Bangkok to protest against this perceived oppression. But to say there is ‘a climate of fear’ is an exaggeration. The majority of the Thai population have not noticed any change in lifestyle after the coup, apart from a late-night curfew. Many, in fact, are in open support of the coup.

And so it must be said that for all the publicity that John Kerry’s statements regarding Thailand and the coup has received, his statements can be shown as nothing more than hollow, hypocritical words. Ukraine and Egypt ousted their democratically elected leaders, but in both cases this would restore true democracy and preserve order. In Thailand, a coup must be immediately condemned. The USA easily ignores any appropriate justification of the coup.

It shows that either the United States has a severe lack of understanding of Thailand, or the USA has hidden, vested interests with the Thaksin regime that makes it feel so inclined to come to its defense. Both may be the case. Perhaps this is what makes the facts so ‘inconvenient’ for them. The point I will state again is this: for all the condemnation and negative statements about the coup from abroad, several ‘inconvenient truths’ exist, many of which foreign governments seem so happy to ignore. 

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the NCPO, has proposed that Thailand go through reconciliation and reform before holding a general election. The process may take a year before a return to democracy, but Thailand’s political woes have existed for over a decade. A few weeks will not solve the problems, and an election right now will only return us to the ‘great corruption, great cronyism and great distortion of the democratic process’. Let’s hope that the junta will be able to lead the country through the difficult months that lie ahead.

-Ken

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18 thoughts on “Inconvenient Truths About Thailand’s Coup

  1. This is a very interesting topic I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I find it hard to side or argue with different sides because I think the definition of the word “democracy” seems to vary from person to person. Some people believe that the direct action from the population is what makes a country democratic, while others see that democracy is just the right to rule, and people should comply to elections. Whatever the case, this is a pretty difficult topic to handle and I appreciate the fact that you tried your best to justify your position.

    Sidenote: It’s “Yanukovych” not “Yakunovych”.

    1. I agree that this is a very difficult argument. To some, an election is all that matters, while to others the behavior of the democratically-elected government is equally important.

      The spelling error has been rectified. Thank you!

  2. Appreciate this article a lot. This topic of American’s government hypocrisy has been floating around Thai people for a while now (or at least among my acquaintances). They have been sticking their noses in too many things and doing very little to make the condition better, not that we need their help in the first place.

    They only choose what is convenient for them and portray the leaders they do not agree with, democratically elected or not (pfft!), as the villain on the world stage. What they fail to see is their own ignorance of that specific country’s culture and history. Just because their system works on their home ground (or does it?), does not mean it will work anywhere else in the same fashion.

  3. You royalists must be in fear everyday. Corruption is everyday life in Thailand – everyone knows that. You just get mad when someone beats you at your own game and turns the millions of farmers against the rich elite. Try to blameshift your issues on America or the rest of the West as much as you want, but it doesn’t excuse your decades of oppression against the rural poor just because you think one candidate is more corrupt than your own (beat you at your own game!)

    1. I will have to disagree with some of your points. This is hardly blameshifting in any manner. This is saying that they should mind their own business, and simply pointing out the inconsistency in their statements. Period.

      Secondly, with all this trouble being stirred up, do the “Elites” really suffer? What constitute Thailand elites anyway? No. The mega rich will remain rich. It is the working middle class who suffers the most from this crisis. What did they do wrong? For being born and working in Bangkok?

      Your argument sounds almost like this to me: “Since we cannot have it, you cannot have it either!” Does that fix anything? No. Does the Thaksin regime lead them to sustainable better lives? I do not think so.

      I do not know and cannot possibly predict where this is all heading. But at the very least, nobody is dying now. I appreciate the soldiers coming out and stopping any future possible clash between the 2 sides, plus the “unknown” party bombing and shooting protesters all over who seem to be able to “elude” police every single time.

      With family and loved ones in Bangkok, this is what we need right now. We do not want one more civil war.

      You are right, however, about the disparity in wealth and well-being in Thailand. It is chronic issue that no government in our history every try to seriously solve. A shame. This is a big eye opener to every living Thai and we can only hope that we will emerge from this and proceed to fix what is currently wrong.

    2. So Meelek, you think the extremely wealthy Thaksin and Yingluck are not members of an “elite”?

      What about all the farmers who turned up in Bangkok to protest against the Yingluck government over the failure to pay them for their rice? Or do those farmers not count for anything in your worldview?

      You are absolutely correct that the Thaksinistas/PTP beat the other side at the “game” of corruption; they were far more efficient at stealing people’s money. You think this is a good thing?

  4. Thank you for this great article which states so well what many Thais feel about the hypocrisy (and possible ulterior motive) of the US government.

  5. How American people are doing today? How the red Indians are living their lifes? How the rasism problem I your own country? How about the financial of all American people in everyday of living? How many American people lost their jobs? How many students are just the “Bumps on the road” like Obama said?

    We are not Vietnam, Iraq or Syria.

    So stop fuck up with Thailand and fix your own problems. We can take care of our own country!

  6. We are concerned that your country has butted in our country.
    We know you have many American people to take care, to make them happier, to reduce the number of people in hunger and homeless. (I cannot understand why there are many homeless people in the powerful country like America)
    We should say thank for your concern about us, but we think you should first concern about your country, your homeland, better than trying to cut in anything for Thailand.
    Don’t forget “Thailand is not your homeland”.
    After you can make your people happy under your democracy, we may use your democracy as the political model for Thailand.

  7. Half American Half Thai living in Los Angeles, born in Bangkok. Family is middle class. Kerry’s statement was textbook diplomacy in follow up to a coup, people are making a big deal out of nothing. US has not intervened and has been silent since, they’re waiting to see who comes out on top.

    Corruption is pretty sick on both sides. Newin was Thaksin’s number one bag man and an expert in vote buying, he eventually sold out when Thaksin left the country and went to work with Suthep. Dems attempted large scale vote buying in Isaan and the North, people accepted their money but still voted PTP and Yingluck. This is a very complex set of circumstances – but certainly no one can argue that the rural poor are having a political wakening and beginning to assert themselves. Unfortunately they’re tied to haksin who will throw anyone under the bus when it’s convenient.

    The elephant in the room and what I believe is the #1 driving force behind the coup = the Bangkok elites are terrified about what is going to happen when eventually there is royal succession. They want to be fully in control at that time. Prayuth is advocating for one specific faction the most, and everyone know this. One of the most illuminating sources of info about the circle of power in Thailand are the wikileaks cables released a few years ago.

    Anyway… beautiful country going through a painful growing spasm. I think the next few years will be crucial in determining the future of the country for decades – I hope it’s not the military route, but seems inevitable.

  8. What does the author think of this today with growing abuse of power by the coup makers and virtually no progress on any reform agendas?

  9. It’s me again. Just want to touch base, now that we have:

    – increasing repression on the right to free expression

    – a laughable constitution drafting process that seeks to concentrate power and white wash future military repression

    – attempts to censor the Internet

    – bungled handling of refugee issues. I mean come on the latest guy to be sent back is already registered with UNHCR

    – more corruption coming out from the military clique and it’s pathetic attempt at whitewashing

    – mysterious deaths under military custody

    – very limited substantive reform if any over the last 18 months

    I hope you now have the brain cells and good sense to realize that unaccountable power Is a recipe for disaster.

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