Is a military coup in Thailand imminent?By Bangkok Pundit Jun 11, 2012 6:00AM UTC
NOTE: This blog will only look at a military coup. There is the so-called judicial coup option, but BP will look at that in a separate post.
Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations in May 2012 blogged a post entitled “Another Coup Looming in Thailand?”. An excerpt:
In an interesting piece in Asia Times, two retired U.S. army officers who frequently write on the Thai military note that the Thai armed forces are currently beefing up their strength, working to promote closer intra-army unity, and essentially preparing for a potential conflict with the elected government should Thaksin return to the country, or should the elected government try to carve into the army’s political independence.
Though these two writers can be at times hyperbolic and incredibly pro-army in their writings, the news they detail echoes stories from other army sources, and suggests that another coup in Thailand is hardly out of the question after Thaksin’s imminent return. U.S. policymakers should be prepared for such a possibility —and should be prepared with extremely harsh measures should the Thai military stage a coup.
Tim LaRocca in The Diplomat blogged on Kurlantzick’s piece stating “ Is Thailand on the verge of another coup? There are plenty of reasons why it could be.”
Bloomberg in the aftermath of the protests against the reconciliation bills and the court accepting the petition to rule on the constitutionality of the constitutional amendments. Some excerpts:
Another ‘‘judicial coup” may take place before street protests spin out of control, a possible pretext for another military intervention, according to Paul Chambers, director of research at the Southeast Asian Institute of Global Studies at Payap University in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand.
“If things continue as they are right now, then Yingluck’s days are numbered,” he said. “If Pheu Thai steps back and ends the attempts to change the constitution, then Yingluck can stay in office perhaps until her term is over.”
Army C-in-C Prayuth has denied a coup is imminent. Wassana in the Bangkok Post:
Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has dismissed as groundless a claim by red shirt leaders of an imminent coup.
Gen Prayuth yesterday said military leaders have been closely monitoring the political situation and all agreed that political conflicts must be solved through non-violent means.
Wassana in the Bangkok Post with an analysis piece entitled “Rumours of a coup are greatly exaggerated”. Some excerpts:
Red shirt TV channels speculated that Supreme Commander Gen Thanasak Patimapakorn, not Gen Prayuth, would lead a new coup.
Gen Prayuth thinks the military should remain neutral when it comes to politics.
In the past, classic factors that have driven the military to stage coups were political interference, such as politically motivated reshuffles or an attempt to remove the army chief from his post.
Given the absence of such factors, there appears nothing to compel the military leader to resort to such drastic action, at least for the time being.
Shawn Cripsin in Asia Times:
Few military observers, however, believe that a putsch is imminent. Instead, they say, Thaksin’s camp and the top brass led by army commander Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha have found common cause in the four reconciliation bills’ amnesty provision. Significantly, the provision would not challenge the legal basis of the 2006 coup and would absolve soldiers of responsibility for the killings of presumably scores of civilian red shirt protestors during the 2010 crackdown.
The apparent agreement comes amid a complex negotiation of carrots and sticks. A broached military reform bill aimed to give more discretionary power to civilian politicians over future personnel reshuffles, traditionally the preserve of top commanders. State prosecutors, meanwhile, have in recent weeks said they have compiled enough evidence to implicate the military in as many as 18 of 92 protest-related deaths.
“Military leaders feel they can’t move forward without an amnesty. The top brass and all generals in line for promotion have blood on their hands,” said one military insider who requested anonymity. “They want the reconciliation bills to work.”
Any military intervention in politics, the insider believes, would likely be resisted by proliferating red shirt villages, which by some estimates now account for 20,000 of 77,000 villages nationwide, concentrated in Thaksin’s stronghold north and northeast regions.
Many of the villages have been indoctrinated from above specifically to protect democracy against a future military coup. One researcher who recently visited red shirt villages in northeastern provinces quoted residents as saying their areas would become bastions of resistance similar to Homs, in Syria, in the event of another military intervention. Others, the researcher said, invoked the possibility of launching a “Thai-style Arab Spring”.
The combination of a promised amnesty and the threat of a red shirt uprising that could complicate the succession appears to have influenced the top brass’s position. The military insider predicts that even if the situation in Bangkok descends into chaos, with rival red and (pro-PAD) yellow shirt protestors clashing violently, the military would step in only briefly and return power to Yingluck once order was restored.
BP: Crispin has more in the article….
The military may act for a variety of reasons and can be instructed by others in the establishment to stage a coup. To repeat what BP said last year:
Staging a coup now would be very difficult. If there is one issue that would galvanise the reds and even non-reds, and particularly in light of events in Egypt, and lead to large street protests would be a military coup. This doesn’t mean one will not occur or is not being planned, but the result is that staging a military coup will be very, very difficult (except if there was one certain big event and even then it would be complicated). The military now wield signifiant power behind the scenes and have doubled their budget in the last 5 years and have the power to put governments together. However, this power is not constant and the longer the period of time we move away from 2006, the less power the military will have. This weakening of the military’s power and money would be more severe under Puea Thai hence the military will use all its resources to stop Puea Thai from forming the next government.
Unless a certain event occurs, the chances of a coup as of now are 10%.
BP: Despite the increase in political tensions now, there are actually no additional reasons from the military’s perspective to stage a coup. Despite Prayuth’s intervention before the election to encourage voters to vote for ‘good people’ which was interpreted that people should not vote for Puea Thai. Since the election, relations between the military and the Puea Thai government have been fairly stable – see posts on this here and here - and an accommodation has been reached. The military’s strong performance during the floods is big reason for that, but it has also meant that military power has not declined under Puea Thai. As Thailand moves away from 2006, the military will continue to decline in power, but for now, this decline is happening very slowly. Puea Thai have decided to play nice with the military, increasing military budget in the 2013 budget from 168 billion to 180 billion. There is also no sign that Prayuth will lose his job. The military coup option is just too messy. If there is any kind of coup, a judicial coup makes much more sense. Unless something else happens, the change of a military coup in the immediate future is less than 10%.