Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Thailand & Thaksin in Turmoil

(NB: Updates at the end of this post)

1.Thai PM 'overthrown in army coup'

A faction of the Thai military led by the army chief says it has overthrown Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Soldiers have entered the prime minister's offices in Government House and tanks have surrounded the building.

Mr Thaksin, who is at the UN in New York, has declared a state of emergency and said he had removed the army chief.

A government spokesman insisted the coup "could not succeed", and told the Reuters news agency that the government was still in control.

The spokesman said it had not been decided when the prime minister would return home from the UN.

However, in a television broadcast the leadership of the armed forces said it had taken control of Bangkok, declared a nationwide martial law and ordered all troops to return to their bases.

The so-called "Council of Political Reform" they announced is apparently loyal to sacked military commander Lt Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin and has declared its loyalty to the king.

However, the BBC's Kate McGeown in Bangkok says King Bhumibol is held in high esteem by all Thais, and the declaration of loyalty does not necessarily imply that he backs the takeover attempt.

An army-owned TV station is showing images of the royal family and songs linked in the past with military coups.

BBC World, CNN and other international news channels have been taken off the air, readers in Thailand told the BBC News website by email.

Our correspondent says low-level rumours of a possible coup have been circulating for weeks.
Political impasse

There has been pressure growing on the prime minister to resign, including from groups close to King Bhumibol, following a political impasse in which April's general election was declared invalid, says the BBC's correspondent Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

But it had been thought that Thailand was making progress towards holding another election later in the year, our correspondent says.

Witnesses said several hundred troops were posted at key points around Bangkok, including at government installations and major intersections.

Russell Miles emailed the BBC News website to say there were troops "dressed in Swat-style gear strolling around" near Government House, and "a tense, but fairly controlled atmosphere".
He said: "We saw a group of blokes bundling a cameraman and another chap into a van. We are taking photos, but not out in the open."

At the United Nations, where the annual General Assembly is under way, it was announced that the agenda had been changed to allow Mr Thaksin to address it in the coming hours.

2.Timeline of Thaksin's recent troubles:

By Times Online and agencies

Recent political developments in Thailand leading up to today's declaration of a state of emergency by Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Prime Minister.

February 6, 2005: Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) Party wins a second landslide election victory, taking 377 of the 500 seats in parliament.

September 9: State-run television takes a current affairs show hosted by Sondhi Limthongkul, Mr Thaksin’s former business associate, off the air, citing repetition of "unfair" criticism of various parties.

January 23, 2006: Mr Thaksin’s relatives sell their controlling stake in Shin Corp, the telecoms empire he founded, to Temasek, the Singapore state investment firm. The tax-free $1.9 billion sale angers Bangkok’s middle classes and adds momentum to Mr Sondhi’s campaign.

February 24: Mr Thaksin calls a snap election on April 2, three years early and two days before a big anti-government rally.

February 27: Three main opposition parties announce an election boycott after Mr Thaksin rejects their demand for a neutral body to reform the constitution.

April 2: Election is held despite opposition boycott.

April 4: After a strong protest vote, Mr Thaksin meets revered King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, before announcing on national television that he will step down as soon as the next parliament meets.

April 5: Mr Thaksin hands day-to-day power to his Deputy Prime Minister, Chidchai Vanasatidya.

April 26: The three main opposition parties say that they will stand in a new election if April 2 poll is annulled.

May 8: Constitutional Court rules that the election is unconstitutional and a new poll should be held.

May 23: Mr Thaksin takes back reins of power, saying it was time to get back work on economic and security issues.

May 30: Government sets election re-run for October 15. King of Thailand approves the re-run in late July saying he wants a swift end to the crisis.

July 20: Thai army chief unexpectedly re-assigns more than 100 middle-ranking officers thought to be supporters of Mr Thaksin, adding to rumours about divided army and possible coup.

September 19: Mr Thaksin declares a state of emergency after tanks surround Government House.

3.Previous Coups in Thailand:

-1932:Bloodless coup against absolute monarch King Prajadhipok.

-1947:Military coup by the war-time pro-Japanese leader Phibun Songkhram

- 1971: Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn returns to power and abolishes the constitution and dissolves the parliament.

- October 1973: A student-led uprising ousts the “Three Tyrants” - Thanom, his son Col. Narong Kittikachorn and his father-in-law Field Marshal Praphas Charusathien - who ruled Thailand for much of the 1960s and early 1970s. A brief period of democracy ensues.

- Oct. 6, 1976: At least 46 student protesters, who were demonstrating against the return of Thanom to Thailand, are killed and hundreds more are wounded by the police and army. A coup installs a new military-guided, right-wing government.

- March 26, 1977: The military government thwarts a coup led by Gen. Chalard Hiranyasiri after Chalard and about 300 men seized four government and military buildings.

- Oct. 20, 1977: A bloodless military coup, led by Admiral Sangad Chaloryoo, installs Kriangsak Chomanan as prime minister.

- April 1, 1981: Factions in the military attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda’s government.

- Sept. 9, 1985: Retired military officers stage a failed coup attempt.

- Feb. 23, 1991: Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon topples the civilian government of Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan in a bloodless takeover.

- May 1992: Suchinda is forced from power when troops gun down at least 50 pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok. In the aftermath of the violence, his appointed prime minister resigns. King Bhumibol Adulyadej intervenes to end demonstrations, and parliament votes to reduce the power of the military in Thai politics.
(Most of the information above ie. Item 3, is from Press)

4.Timeline of Thailand's History: (from founding of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I till present)

5.1Link to Wayne Soon's post on the coup and its ramifications for democracy

5.2 Link to liveblog on 19 Sept Thailand Coup

5.3 Link to OpinionAsia's Tin Maung Maung Than : Thai Democracy in the Twilight Zone

5.4 Temasek Holdings: Singapore connection at center of Thai crisis

Dear Friends,

While most of us were sleeping, events in Thailand were quickly unfolding.

Many questions will be answered over the next few days.

Is this the end of Thaksin? Will democracy take a backseat in Thailand?

Even more fundamental questions that all of us need to think about include:

Is there ever any legal basis for the removal of a democratically elected leader other than through the ballot box ?

Is there any moral basis for removing any leader outside the normal political process?

These are difficult questions that I do not intend to answer at 2.30 am in the morning. I shall leave them as food for thought.

I hope that reason prevails and that an amicable settlement results in the Land of a Million Smiles.

Good Morning,

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

An After-thought: MM Lee must have The Sixth Sense! What a coincidence that he
spoke of military coups only a few days back. No wonder he is known as an Oracle!


Updated at 08.36 pm Singapore 20 Sept 2006( 01.36 pm GMT)

1.Thaksin arrives in London and likely to seek asylum (Asiaone)

2.Thai coup leader says Thaksin can return, but may face charges(CNA)05.13pm (10.13 GMT)

3. Thai coup leader to install new PM in two weeks (Reuters) 6:44am ET (11.44 am GMT)

4.Thai Coup Leader Says He'll Be Acting PM (AP) (7:14 AM EDT 12.14 pmGMT)

5. Thailand's king gives blessing to coup (CNN) ( 12.55 pm EDT 5.55 pm GMT)


Anonymous said...

"Is there ever any legal basis for the removal of a democratically elected leader other than through the ballot box ?"

Ask LKY. He has an answer just days ago regarding 'freak' election results and how the military would take over in such instances. 'Freak' result is defined by him as any non-PAP GE victory.

jun said...

To answer the question of the 'legal basis' we will first need to determine what is 'legal' and what is 'illegal'...and who determines...the current government? the previous government?

The possibility of a coup was already buzzing since earlier this year. And with the re-assignment within the military, it is more or less expected?

I still think Thailand is more democratic than well, you know, a certain country, erm, some place...


My friends in Thailand are in a *happy mood* when I called them (cos of the holidays). Seems like they aren't as worried as us. Haha!

nofearSingapore said...

Anon: Yes MM seems to have the answers to everything. He seems to have it all thought out! I must admit that it seemed so wierd that he should mention army takeover and presto, the Gen Sondhi did the coup thing! I am sure it is all coincidental. Maybe he had premonitions- sometimes I get that too, think of sometime really obscure and tadadah!!.. it happens.

jun: from non-lawyer's pt of view, I think it is never legal to force a leader out unless thru free&fair political process. But then, when Thaksin won the last GE ( ok.. was it free & fair? I don't know), he was not allowed to continue leading.
The law of the state is framed by the govt of the day. If I am not wrong, the parliament can even outlaw opposition and it would be perfectly legal.
But.. morality is a different kettle of fish altogether.
Hence, I always say that what the PAP does is legal... eg upgrading for votes/GRC etc... BUT NOT MORAL!
So Thaksin's ouster.. is it moral if the people and the military ( whom we assume are objective and only act for Thailand's sake), do what is not legal but is moral in most Thai's views?
Everything has 2 sides; 2 opposite views which seem equally persuasive. Everything!

I just spoke to friend in BKK and he says ALL IS NORMAL!


Anonymous said...

Dr H,

That is a positivistic view of the law. A different view of the law is that there are just laws and unjust laws, and unjust laws carry no legitimacy and need not be complied with. The law in a democratic legal system has inherent values such as equality before the law, free and fair elections, etc. Then, there's also the reality. Which court is going to declare a coup illegal if the judiciary iunder the old regime is replaced with a new judiciary under the new regime?

ReportedYBSiteDownToYahoo said...

Extract relevant portion of my comments on Mr Wang's blogspot here...

1 CSJ is then worth more than those MIW toeing the party-whip. Those who have yet to explain why despite their annual million $ pay for the past years, the Singapore system is so shaky (according to LKY) that it will not survive an election outcome that changes the leading political party. Even Thailand, a developing country with much poorer-paid ministers, has a system that survives several coups! Based on reports about the Thai locals, they seem confident that the Thailand system will survive the current coup as well.

YCK said...

Dr H,

am I not too far off the mark in reading your juxtaposition of what is moral and legal as a tacit approval of the coup?

But the wiping clean the slate for a new constitution can only be justified if the old one is truly unsalvagable.

I hope we will never come to that for Singapore!

nofearSingapore said...


I was just thinking aloud.

Actually, altho I personally find arrogant characters like Thaksin overbearing and sometimes intolerable, I feel that the coup is wrong and is like taking a short cut and sets the precedence for future coups. (Whay who am I to speak against the overwhelming majority of Thais?)

IMHO, If he is such a terrible PM, then the democratic institutions of Thailand should all the more marshall its forces and energies to kick him out at the next polls.

However, if despite all their best efforts, he continues to have the trust of the hoi polloi, then I say, "Tough! accepting the verdict of the people comes with the territory".

The cycle of coups and counter-coups will haunt Thailand like a recurring nightmare.

In S'pore, if one wants to kick out anyone else, one has to work on the people and make them think as one and persuade them to vote for one's programmes and ideals. (sorry to many one's already)

It is not going to be easy, as the PAP has fed the bellies of the people and to them ( unfortunately), that seems enough ( but not to me.. but then it's just me).

YCK said...

Dr H,

sorry for my presumption.

I suppose that you are right that Singaporeans are practical and accommadating. Thus, they will try to work within the system.

Change is expected to be slow as the critical mass of thinking people like you has not been reached. I suppose that's why many have left. Well the up side is that I do not believe you are alone :)

Keep the good posts coming.


nofearSingapore said...

anon 11.42pm: (sorry I missed out on reply) I guess whether law is "just" or not and whether new regime ( post-coup) is legit or not is subjective and arbitrary?
In Thailand's case, once His Majesty ( who is well-loved) gives his assent, then no one dares protest ( on pain of lese majeste?)
Is there a universal yardstick for what constitute "fair and free" and other such concepts? Even in the land of the free ( USA), Bush's razor-thin victory over Gore was determined by the "hanging chad" of the ballot paper!!

reportybsite....:the people up there ( those earning big bucks) should trust us little people more. We know what's good for us. If some charlatan does get voted in ( if not already in), we will find them out and kick them out asap. We are not as stupid as we look!


Casper said...

Churchill once said:"Democracy is absurd, but all other systems are worse."

Thailand was in a situation with a very glaring dichotomy - Bangkok literalate middle class wants Takhsin out, but the poorer part of the nation who knows nothing other than their 3 meals, wants him in.

That was a really between a rock and a hard place situation for the Thais really.

So as long as the military are out soon, it is probably not such a bad thing. And hopefully when they write their constitution this time, they need to ensure that money politics of all formed are prevented and a effective supervisory body is setup.
This is a time of chaos, but also a time of opportunity, for them to build a cleaner nation as they are now starting from scratch.

Gerald said...

I think it is unacceptable for a thrice democratically-elected leader to be overthrown by a military coup. Whatever Thaksin's shortcomings, he was elected by his people by a comfortable majority. What is even more regrettable is that the rural poor in the north have lost a champion of their cause because the urban elites didn't like Thaksin's CEO-style leadership. I've written more about this in my latest blog post.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Casper and Gerald(SgPatriot),
Yes the poor are the apparent losers.
Today's (26.9.06) is esply disturbing as it seems that the junta is here to stay ( albeit in the background).
I don't think Thailand can be considered to be democratic even with interim PM as he will definitely be perceived as a Puppet.
The quicker this 12 month passes and a new PM with people's mandate get elected and put in place the better. But the future will be fraught with coups and counter-coups as the precedence has been set. When will be ever end?
Gerald: Your latest post is sensible and balanced.