The Coup in Thailand

Everyone, including the UN, appears to be getting their knickers in a twist over this coup in Thailand.

Me, I’m not so worried (I have an apartment in Phuket, so I have an interest of sorts).  This is not like a coup in some parts of the world where the military leader seizes power with the intention of running the country permanently (usually by declaring a state of emergency, which remains in force for the next three generations).  Indeed, the Thais have seen multiple coups within living memory, the most recent being only 8 years ago.

Democracy in Thailand has not been an overwhelming success, and the past several years have seen deep divisions between two opposing sides (the reds and the yellows), each of whom vociferously protest against whichever one is in power that week.  The situation appeared to be intractable with no progress or compromises from either side in years, and it looked as though things were going to take a turn for the worse and become violent.

So on the face of it, it looks as though the army has assumed the role of parent to two squabbling kids, whacked their heads together, and told them to sort out their differences or else forget about holding office in any capacity.  I am confident the generals do not want to establish themselves as the permanent head of a military dictatorship, and I am equally confident they envisage ceding power to an elected civilian government as soon as one which is adult enough presents itself.  I am not so confident this will happen any time soon, or the military intervention will not somehow make things worse, but I don’t think there were many alternatives which would have lead to a happy outcome.  Taking all this into account, I’m not sure that blanket, universal condemnation of the coup is warranted just yet.


4 thoughts on “The Coup in Thailand

  1. So… To summarise, Youre predicting a ‘happy ending’ in Bangkok…

  2. Thailand has a fairly corrupt, fairly incompetent political class and elite, from which governments are formed. When things reach a certain stage, military coups occur (under the watch of the respected king) and thing are rearranged. This is the system that has developed, and this coup is it functioning in the way they normally function. I agree that this will be resolved relatively painlessly.

    The trouble with systems like this is that they have evolved ad hoc and rely on the relative good faith of the army and king. If these things are destroyed, you have trouble. The ad hoc arrangement between the army and civilian governments and elites in Turkey greatly resembled the situation in Thailand until quite recently. (I like to compare Thailand with Turkey. The countries are similar in a lot of ways. One large rapidly growing, quite international city without much design or planning (and with inadequate infrastructure because of this and the corruption). Corruption is endemic, but not so bad to stop the economy growing. Much poorer and more conservative countryside outside that big city. A complicated political relationship between the army and civilian government, in which the army has historically been ultimately in charge but which acts with a relatively gentle hand compared to armies that are ultimately in charge. Political instability due to insurgencies on the borders. A personality cult towards someone relatively benign and not in charge – someone not even alive in the case of Turkey – whose picture appears in every business and possibly home).

    Much of this has broken down in Turkey now, and this is not for the best. The question in Thailand is what happens when the king dies, because he is not likely to be followed by someone equally respected (to put it euphemistically). Some kind of rearrangement may follow.

  3. Michael, I thought that Turkey’s problems resulted from its rapid economic growth in the past decade, transforming millions of poor, religiously conservative peasants into successful entrepreneurs or mid-level employees. Some of them moved into large cities, above all Istanbul, and became a major voice in national politics. They were bound to clash with the old, secular, more sophisticated elites, including the officer corps and the educated class in general. But are the new middle class going to pass their religious conservatism on to their children?

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