Thitinan on learning lessons from past coups
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Thitinan on learning lessons from past coups

Last Friday, Thitinan had an op-ed in the Bangkok Post entitled “Learning from a long history of coups”. Thitinan very diplomatically, in a time where criticism of the junta is forbidden, does not offer much commentary on the current coup but instead looks at previous coups and what lessons can be drawn. One must read between the lines. Relevant excerpts:

For students of Thai politics, the hard authoritarian hand of the most recent coup brings echoes of the Sarit era, brooking no dissent and persecuting opponents and critics. But the Sarit period was much bloodier and more ruthless, featuring summary executions of hoodlums and criminals, compared to the latest coup where the NCPO’s summonses and detentions have been coercive but not fatal.

Field Marshal Sarit was also equipped with interim constitutional provisions that gave him absolute power at a time when international concerns were largely muted owing to Cold War expediency and when the political consciousness of the masses was relatively low. This time, all eyes will be fixated on Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s constitutional preference and the attendant powers it gives him and the NCPO.

In the contemporary period over the past four decades, the October 1976 coup offers a key comparison. It was a right-wing backlash against left-leaning students, activists and politicians when the communist threat was deemed a clear and present danger. In 2014, corruption is the new communism. The military’s mop-up operations and pacification campaigns in 2014 are similar to its anti-communism drive in the 1970s. Several thousand activists fled to the jungles back then and eventually returned to society after an amnesty programme was launched. Most crucial was that communism as an ideology and way of life just did not work for them in the end.

… Ultimately, communism failed in Thailand, but corruption will always be a problem here in need of sustained eradication. Thus corruption should not be operationally tackled in the same way as communism once was.

In 2014, the best combined model for the coup makers is to delegate authority and performance to able policy drivers with integrity, avoid being in the driver’s seat directly for plausible deniability, to implement reforms that must be seen as fair to coup supporters and opponents alike, keep vested interests at bay, and set up and stick to an election timetable.

BP: Corruption is the new communism. Indeed. On avoiding being in the driver’s seat, Thitinan is suggesting the coup leaders follow the Anand model (see the article for more details). The 1991 coup was staged on February 23 and Anand became PM on March 2.  If anything the junta is playing by a completely different play book than either the coup leaders in 1991 and to a lesser extent 2006.  Prayuth is the head of BOI committee and a new energy committee. Prayuth is the alpha and the omega and everything rests on his shoulders….