How little things change in ThailandBy Bangkok Pundit Jul 04, 2014 9:29AM UTC
Below are some excerpts from journal and newspaper articles (it is not meant to be an extensive literature review and the choices of publications are those that were freely available online or that BP had already downloaded) from the 1976 and 1991 coups. Each coup in Thailand is different and there are many factors involved, but there are a number of themes that are repeated over time.
On the 1976 coup, Kramol Thongthammachart,* The April Elections and Prospects for Democracy in Thailand, Southeast Asian Affairs (1977), pp. 265-274.
BP: This time the foreign scapegoat was was Cambodian – see here – with talk of Cambodians coming to kill people. In 1976, you had violence proceeding the coup and used as justification for the coup.
BP: The April 1976 election was disrupted to some extent, but not blocked by a political group like the PDRC. However, as mentioned already, the general nature of the violence and the need to restore stability was used as justification for the October 1976 coup.
Also, on the 1976 coup, J. L. S. Girling, Thailand: The Coup and Its Implications, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 50, No. 3. (Autumn, 1977), pp. 387-405.
NOTE: For the rest of the excerpts below, BP hhas copied and pasted from PDFs which causes formatting problems and sometimes a few characters are missed. Have corrected where spotted.
ALTHOUGH THAILAND’s military coup of October 6, 1976 represented a watershed in recent politics-some would say a point of no return-yet life in Thailand has continued apparently regardless of these turbulent events. Bangkok on the surface has remained as it has been for years, with traffic jams (but worse than ever), bustling activity, pollution, noise. Moreover, many ‘ordinary people,’ not to mention the traditionalist elite, approved of the coup. To them it promised an end to turmoil, ‘confusion’ (a word constantly heard) and uncertainty, and a return to stability, law and order.’ Of course it is a reaction that will not last if the new regime fails to cope with pressing economic problems-labor conditions, unemployment, and lack of investment. But the popular propensity to short-term comparisons (before and after October 1976), the belief in firm authority, the easy identification of democracy with disorder and violence, and indeed an attitude of living from day to day, are still prevalent. For academics, professionals and other urban intellectuals
[FN] 1 In the official view, businessmen, local leaders and civil servants, in particular, have expressed ‘satisfaction’ with the results of the coup. Better conditions for earning a living, peacefulness and security, and higher morale in the administration, were some of the reasons mentioned by the Ministry of the Interior, reporting on the situation in the provinces. Siam Rath, November 8, 1976
In spite of the shock of the coup and the impact of the current regime,30
[FN] 30 Interior Minister Samak got rid of three senior police officers: although personal rivalries were probably the main factor, the decision was widely acclaimed. But the campaign both inside the ‘Mafia Ministry’ and outside it has faltered since then-evidently because major sources of corruption are too powerful to disturb. Prime Minister Thanin has also taken a strong personal stand against drug trafficking but, as an experienced observer points out, “Thanin’s policies will have to prevail over decades of corruption, resilient political alliances and the hard economic facts that have linked the opium trade with powerful interests in Thai society and government. . . .Senior provincial police officers in the north have long been under a blanket of suspicion. . . .There has been a long-standing tradition in the Thai Supreme Command to view [the opium growers in the "Golden Triangle"] as a strong anti-communist buffer force which serves national security. . . .” Richard Nations, ‘Politics and the Poppy,’ Far Eastern Economic Review, April 15, 1977.
BP: Create chaos – this is not to say that some linked with reds/anti-establishment forces were not involved in any violence this time around, but it would be naïve to think it was only those linked with the reds/anti-establishment forces – and then stage a coup to restore stability. A formula used again in 2014. Another theme is that ordinary people were largely supportive of the coup, but again they were supportive as they wanted to restore order.
Thailand’s military forces seized control of the country tonight after police and rightist mobs crushed a Leftwing student protest amidst shooting, lynching, and beatings, which left around 30 dead and hundreds wounded.
Admiral Sa-ngad appeared briefly on television and assured viewers that the military leaders did not want power and would “lead the country toward a form of democracy under the king…in the future.” The admiral, an arch anti-Communist, said the need for a military takeover was brought about by a group of university students who insulted Thailand’s royal family and then resisted arrest “with heavy, destructive weapons used in war, with the cooperation of Vietnamese Communist terrorists.” This was a reference to claims by police that they had found several “Vietnamese looking” youths among the 4,000 to 5,000 students they arrested this morning in a gun battle at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.
The brutality went without mention by Admiral Sa-ngad. His only reference to the violence was: “Many civilians and police were killed and wounded. The situation deteriorated, causing confusion.”
Dr. Puey Ungpakorn is one of Thailand’s most distinguished economists and, until the military coup of October 6, was rector of Thammasat University in Bangkok. He himself narrowly escaped death at the hands of a right-wing lynch mob and managed to get on a plane to London, where I talked to him. He believes that “civil war is now inevitable” in Thailand. Thai democracy has been destroyed—in part by the institutions and the attitudes which the United States created in order, ostensibly, to “save the country for the free world.” Dr. Puey believes that “disputes within the army will increase, so will the gap between rich and poor. Relations with our neighbors will deteriorate and thousands of people who tried to make democracy work will join the insurgents in the hills.”
Other Thai democrats, such as Pansak Vinyaratyn, editor of the liberal paper Chaturath, have been arrested and face years of detention in the new re-education camps the government has set up. The long-range intentions of the government, and the extent to which the army is united behind it, are still uncertain. So are the precise plots and ploys of all the interested generals and politicians in the weeks, days, and hours before and after the coup took place. Thai politics are not simple.1
The rallying cry of the plotters was “the communist threat.”
BP: As noted by others, corruption is the new communism. It must be defeated at all costs. Although, given the military has been in control of Thailand for over 65% of the time since 1932 and the culture of corruption has flourished, one does wonder whether the military with strict press censorship regime is the best body to fight corruption….
Btw, Pansak had been advisor to Thaksin and more recently Yingluck so it seems the re-education camp didn’t work….
Page 251 starts with the verbatim partial transcript of the junta announcement on why the 1991 coup was staged:
‘The first reason [for the coup] is the act of corruption. The national administrative party [i.e. the civilian government] has taken the opportunity to make use of its political posts and authority to vigorously and unprecedentedly seek benefit for itself and its companions. It has become normal practice for most of the cabinet ministers to seek money to build up their status and wealth in order to support their political power base. During the consideration of potential large-and medium-scale projects, politicians at the government level played a role in pushing for them to materialize by claiming that the public will benefit from each project. In fact. it is only a sophisticated way to seek benefits. Despite knowledge of extensive corruption among the politicians at the Cabinet level and among government officials and certain high-ranking state enterprise officials, the prime minister as head of the government has not seriously attempted to solve the problem. Moreover, the prime minister has even committed such inappropriate acts himself, by claiming various reasons to conceal corruption. . . . Corruption has escalated quickly and vigorously, beyond anyone’s ability to stop its spread. . .’
BP: Corruption again! Another coup to solve corruption.
This decline in military influence was a result of’the gradual transition to civilian rule in Thailand, and was accelerated by the popularity and the policies of the Chatchai government and by the support of the monarchy for that government in spite of the widespread corruption. Evidently, the civilian government, despite its problems, had become so widely accepted that the one area where the military could hope to gain popular support for the coup was the issue of government corruption. While the existence of’ corruption does not seem to justify the use of violence to overthrow an elected government, the fact that the military chose to use the corruption issue to rationalize the coup indicates the general belief in the unrestrained corruption within the political system. ‘l’his corruption is both epidemic and systemic. Along with this corruption, Thailand has achieved high economic growth under recent civilian regimes. And the parliament had even begun to develop social welfare legislation that may eventually have created the conditions necessary to end corruption. Nor is the use of’ corruption to finance relatively new political parties unique to Thailand. From Stuart England to the ‘machine politics’ of the United States at the turn of the century, corruptional patronage has played an important role in the development of’ political parties
While the civilian party system with its basis in factionalism relied on corruption in building an electoral structure and a power base, military control is likely to be equally corrupt. Military leaders, like their civilian counterparts, rely on the support of factions for power and, given the salary structure of the military, must also utilize corruption to finance their factions. Past military governments in Thailand have been notoriously corrupt and, unlike civilian governments, allow no forum to expose corruption within the government.
BP: Exactly. It is hard to expose corruption when the press is censored and criticism of the junta is illegal…
Also, on the 1991 coup, Clark Neher, Political Succession in Thailand, Asian Survey, Vol. 32, No. 7 (Jul., 1992), pp. 585-605
Nevertheless, on February 23, 1991, Supreme Commander Sundhara Kongsompong and Army Commander-in-Chief Suchinda Kraprayoon abrogated the Constitution, dismissed the elected government, and set up a temporary National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC) with powers of martial law and themselves as ultimate arbiters of public policy. This momentous decision was made just two hours before Chatichai was arrested on an airplane waiting to take off for Chiang Mai where he was to have an audience with the king.
Initially, the people greeted the coup with acquiescence, though not enthusiasm, and there were no public protests or demonstrations. Despite Chatichai’s widespread support, several issues had raised concern arnong Thai citizens about the government’s stability and effectiveness. Democratization had riot ended the personalism and factionalism that have long been a part of Thai politics. Even among the coalition partners, factional infighting remained the norm as party leaders vied for the most influential cabinet positions. Chatichai stated on several occasions that at seventy he was “too old” to remain in his position of leadership for long. The uncertainty of his tenure exacerbated factional maneuvering and set the scene for the February coup. Related to this problem of personalism was the continuing corruption. The phenomenal economic growth of the 1980s brought large amounts of capital into the financial system, and public officials targeted these new resources for private gain. Thai citizens were skeptical about the administration’s professed concern for the majority, which had not gained from the economy’s high growth rates. Many viewed the administration as primarily concerned with big business interests. Indeed, the military claimed that pervasive corruption of the kingdom’s politicians was the primary reason for the coup. Thai newspapers, unencumbered y censorship, reported daily on the rampant corruption among top-level cabinet members. Huge telecommunication projects, massive road and elevated commuter railway ventures, cable television contracts, and new oil refineries are examples of multibillion dollar deals arranged…
BP: Again, you will see that the coup was not strongly opposed. Then again, if you will be detained and locked up for protesting by an entity known in the past for torturing and killing people, this is a deterrence that will work in the immediate aftermath of the coup. The 1991 coup like the 1976 coup, the 2006 coup, and now the 2014 coup, have all had a honeymoon period…
The NPKC also cited the rise of a “parliamentary dictatorship” as another reason for the coup, complaining in particular about rampant votebuying. The rise in the number of wealthy capitalists elected to Parliament and chosen for the cabinet had increased steadily in the past decades but was especially clear in the Chatichai administration. Although the substantial corruption was an important legitimizing rationale for the coup, the more direct cause was a pattern of slights carried out by Chatichai and perceived by military leaders as threats to their traditional prerogatives.
The struggle between state officials led by the military on the one hand, and politicians and business elites on the other, continues to be the centerpiece of Thai political activity. The 1991 military coup and the subsequent debate on how to fashion a new government were examples of both the attempt and failure to resolve this struggle. The public explanations for the coup-corruption and parliamentary dictatorship-were rationalizations presented by a segment of the military to secure prerogatives thought threatened by civilian leadership. Once elections took place, that same military segment decided it would be intolerable that the prime minister be chosen from among leading politicians and their supporters among the financial elite.
BP: Parliamentary dictatorship. Another line used again this time…
NYT after the 1991 coup:
Some businessmen and stockbrokers, including Thomas A. Seale, the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce, praised the military coup. “It’s a great leap forward to a better, Thai-style democracy,” Mr. Seale said in an interview, because a new constitution, still to be drafted by an as yet-unnamed committee, may reduce the power of money in politics. Old Pattern in Thailand
Political corruption and the need to pay kickbacks for contracts is an old pattern in Thailand, which under Mr. Chatichai reached extraordinary levels, military officers and businessmen regularly say. Some of the money goes into pockets, of course, said Kukrit Pramoj, a former elected Prime Minister and newspaper publisher, but a large part goes to buy votes and to finance Thailand’s traditionally intricate politics of personal patronage.
The absence of politicians from ministerial decision-making, at least for some time, “will certainly make Thailand a less expensive place to invest,” Mr. Seale said.
A change of government, a senior Western diplomat said, “merely changes the direction of the flow of the money.” Part of the military’s unhappiness, he said, “stemmed from the fact that the politicians were getting a lot more of it and the military was getting a lot less.”
The military’s decision to review major infrastructure contracts signed with the ousted Government to insure they were not corrupt has shaken foreign investors, stockbrokers and businessmen say privately.
BP: Major foreign businessman supporting the coup? The coup would enable Thailand to move forward and for us to get a better democracy. See the 2014 coup is not unique. PT Barnum would be impressed….
Interview with Anand after the 1991 coup:
Thais were wrong to think the generals would do nothing, Mr. Anand said. “In a way, the Thai people got carried away by this total freedom of expression, by this illusion that there was a political or civilian control over the armed forces,” he said. “When a country that has gone through decades, centuries of a predominant military role in the ruling of country, you can’t just throw them out. They have face, too.”
Political control over the military is still “an essence of a democracy,” he said. “But it must be evolutionary. You can’t just impose it. It must be agreed to by the military.” You have to start with confidence-building measures, he said. “If one side feels manipulated by the other, that’s where the conflict arises.”
Some Thais suggest it is Mr. Anand who is being manipulated by the military, to give the coup an acceptable face, especially to the West. “I haven’t lived up until this year in order to be manipulated,” he said with some heat.
The ultimate goal, he said, “is still to achieve a fully democratic regime.” But democracy requires evolution and cannot be put into place overnight. “In the past, we’ve often been preoccupied with the form, rather than the substance of democracy,” he said. Adequate political participation is still lacking; so is a full understanding of democratic “rights and responsibilities,” which is not just a matter of constitutions.
“Government of the people, by the people and for the people — it’s easier said than done,” Mr. Anand said. “If we want to have democratic rule, we have to earn it.”
The military also wants to end the common practice of vote-buying and thinks that can be accomplished by a complete separation of the executive and legislative branches. But for Mr. Anand, vote buying “is merely a symptom of the national system, which is cancerous.” There is a “total malady of the society,” he said, rooted in greed and distorted social values.
“It’s part of corruption and corrupt practices,” he said. “It goes into the Civil Service system, where many are quite capable but not paid enough; it goes into business practices; it goes into every sector.
BP: This is the same Anand who wants to close the country down for repairs/renovation in order to route out corruption. He says that civilian control of the military and democracy won’t happen overnight. Well, civilian control and a stable democracy won’t happen if you support coups and allow the military to go unpunished which create a systems that rewards the military for staging a coup. Until you break this cycle, you won’t get civilian control over the military as they can act with impunity and a stable democracy. This is a lesson from history. We have repeated coups with promises to do this and that, but they don’t work. Right now, we have the calm before the storm. The storm is likely to take a while but the direction the junta is moving it means it will come….
*He became Constitutional Court President under Thaksin (he also voted to acquit Thaksin on the asset concealment case)….