Military Coup in Thailand?

Not sure if this is better than GQ for this but figured there would be a lot of speculation so here it is.

Easier to just read the story here to get the low down (or pick a news agency of your choice).

I can read the thing as well as all of you but what I am puzzled on is where the hell did this come from? I thought Thailand was a stable government and relatively prosperous. That said I do not keep abreast of Thai politics so do not really know.

Why did this happen? What does this mean? Mean to the region as well as global politics? I cannot imagine Bush is happy to see a muslim general forcibly take over a country while its leader is away.

Any of a million questions really…at this point the floor is open to discussion.

As I understand it (and I’ve been only half paying attention), the apparently-deposed prime minister is something like an even sleazier version of Silvio Berlusconi, in that he’s a hugely wealthy businessman who made no secret of his efforts to hijack the government for his own purposes. Opposition has been mounting, including behind-the-scenes pressure by the King, whose position is apparently largely ceremonial except for the rare moments when he wants to put his actual power to use (I don’t really get this bit). There’s been some electoral chaos over the last few months, all centered on the prime minister and the growing belief that he sought power solely to sack the treasury, culminating in today’s events.

Like I said, though, this is a very rough summary, gleaned from an offhand interest in Thai culture I acquired after seeing a number of excellent movies from that country. Some of them had a background of current events (6ixtynin9, for example, introduces its heroine as she’s being laid off from her office job during an economic downturn), so I paid a tiny amount of attention.

It was evident that something significant was brewing, even from my cursory skimming of news articles over the last year or so, but a freakin’ coup? Holy crap.

(Fiji’s abortive coup a few years ago, that wasn’t really a surprise. This, on the other hand… dang.)

Thaksin Shinawatra came into power some time ago, I think it was in 2000 or 2001. He is probably the richest and most influential person in Thailand. His party, Thai Rak Thai, is translated as Thai loves Thai. Some see this as focusing on the homefront first, some see it as nationalism or even racism.

Thaksin has been beset by scandal since he entered politics. He was found to have violated election rules prior to his first election, but chose to set aside the founding by the election oversight panel. IIRC this first scandal was for hiding billions in assets in his servants name, then transferring them back to himself. Thai Rak Thai is thought to have bought their initial election results, but after the initial election many in other, smaller parties moved over to Thai Rak Thai. There was an assassination attempt on Thaksin soon after he was elected, when a bomb was exploded on a jet the nascent PM was about to board.

There was a large outcry over government handling of the more Muslim southern provinces, where there has been sporadic violence for some time, including a massacre where suspects were stuffed into tight, unventilated spaces and subsequently suffocated. Other hot topics include the handling of the drug problem (heroin and methamphetamine) and the avian flu.

More recently Thaksin was asked by King Bhumipol to step down over irregularities in the latest elections. Thaksin promised to step down, but decided he would also serve the country’s interest best by remaining in a caretaker role until new elections. This was after growing protests calling for Thaksin’s ouster prior to the elections, which were widely boycotted by the Thai middle class.

FWIW Thaksin is seen somehow as a favorite of the lower classes. Some of this is probably because he is seen as strong pro-Thai and anti-Western, but also because of moves to bring affordable health care to the lower classes, who greatly outnumber the wealthy and growing yet smaller middle class.

He sounds kind of like the Kingfish.

Maybe he got the idea to go into politics by watching “All the King’s Men”?

Here’s a link to Thaksin’s Wikipedia entry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaksin_Shinawatra

Note that it already has his ouster in there. :slight_smile:

There’s also a pretty long entry in Wikipedia that goes into the current political crisis -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thailand_political_crisis_2005-2006

I’ve just skimmed it but some of the stuff is pretty wacky by Western standards, but remember, Thailand is a country where spirit houses are taken seriously by fairly educated people, so they have a different point of view.

Is it too soon to say what the military will do once in control? Reinstate the monarchy? Maintain power themselves? Hold new elections?

This seems a bit strong on the military’s part. While the Prime Minister seems to be corrupt it looked like new elections were on the way. Unless they thought he was pilfering the country or going to sleaze out of the elections somehow why didn’t they wait?

Sorry if this comes across twice. Anyway, I’m not Thai but my wife is, as are most of her buddies here in Saudi. The thing with Taksin vs the generals vs the king is very convoluted.

First of all, the Thais are not too torn up about Taksin being corrupt. Corrupt is kind of a default setting with Thai politicians. Most Thais would ask you why you wanted the job if you couldn’t make money off of it. She also points out that Taksin tends to take care of his people which is considered a good thing. Taksin also gains a lot of support from the extremely poor as he has a reputation for helping. I don’t think he has made that much of a difference for most of them but that’s just my opinion. He does take great care to ensure that everyone knows about it when he does something charitable but that’s just being a politician.

The generals are every bit as corrupt as the politicians. The upper echelons of the army get involved in all kinds of things, land, various businesses both legal and otherwise and generally live extremely well, much better than you’d expect given their salaries.

The king is in a class by himself. The attitude of the average Thai toward the king is closer to worship than anything else. One anecdote. I personally watched around 100 people kneel on sharp gravel beside a road for an hour, waiting for the king’s daughter to whiz by them at about 70 MPH. She came by, the people got up and moved on about their business and seemed not the least bit offended that the princess hadn’t stopped. I think they’d have been taken aback if she had.

One thing is very certain. The coup will not fly if the king disapproves. Any army commander that attempted a coup without the approval of the king would have to be insane.

The Thais here think that Taksin is screwed. Their own belief is that he arranged with the generals and the king for the coup to happen while he was away so he didn’t lose face. The suspicion is that the king has tacitly approved the coup and soon things will be back to normal. That may just be tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory but it seems to be widely held by the Thais.

One interesting thing. The army shut down the television stations and I believe they got the radio stations as well. Unfortunately they seem to have overlooked the Internet. My wife has been chatting with her relatives over MSN for most of the night.

Testy

Perhaps they didn’t think it would accomplish anything.

Link

Testy Thanks. Gotta love it when you get the inside scoop on the SDMB.

The Flying Dutchman You’re welcome. Weird isn’t it? Someone on the board knows anything! :stuck_out_tongue:

On the drug thing that people got upset about. Taksin got a lot of points with the citizens for that. I don’t have a good cite but meth was seen as just destroying the country and people didn’t like it. If someone shot a few dealers, people didn’t get too upset.
In all honesty, I don’t think the cops went out with “shoot to kill” orders or anything like that. My own belief is that it was just a natural consequence of trying to arrest armed men that are jacked-up on crystal.
My wife lost a neice to that and her own opinion is that Taksin was waaay too lenient on the dealers.

Testy

Interesting. The New York Times is reporting that the general running the coup has been seen talking with the king of Thailand.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/20/world/asia/20thaicnd.html?hp&ex=1158724800&en=f076b8d685fd69d1&ei=5094&partner=homepage

It would seem that this has the king’s backing so Taksin is indeed screwed. I thought the Thais around here had all started wearing tinfoil hats but it looks like they may have been right. The other thing they predicted was that in a few months when this has all died down, Taksin would quietly slide back into Thailand and everything would go back to normal.
Testy

Can’t be too careful with your company.

tell me I’m not the only one with that song stuck in my head

To me the most interesting part of this so far is that General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, who the media describe as being personally close with the King, is a Muslim.

Testy, my wife’s family is largely from Songkhla, Surat Thani and Hat Yai. I’ll see what kind of opinions I can gather but I suspect that not all of them are fond of Thaksin. Could be wrong on that, as we don’t tend to discuss Thai politics.

FWIW, my impression of the military was that it is admired while the police force was not admired. There was a policeman living in our building and according to my wife families admonished their children not to play with the children of the police. Many of the police are considered as more or less (very) organized crime. They might both be corrupt, but on a day-to-day basis the military’s corruption was less likely to have a direct effect on ordinary folks.

Whack-A-Mole, I don’t see anything akin to “reinstating the monarchy”. Mainly because the King is already considered head of state* and wields an enormous amount of power, even if it is mostly unofficial.

*The Prime Minister is the Head of the Government.

Take that with a pinch of salt: this news originally came from a military controlled TV station (according to Sky News).

Here’s a link to an article about the coup in the Nation, one of the two main English language dailies:

http://nationmultimedia.com/2006/09/20/headlines/headlines_30014075.php

This site and the Bangkok Post were down for a while before. The Post still seems to be down.

Same here. Actually most of the Thais I know don’t get too stirred-up about politics in general although they tend to dislike the crown prince. As far as the general being friends with the king, I don’t find that odd. The Thais mostly seem to have a “live and let live” attitude about religion. Maybe it’s just the Buddhist influence.

True enough. The police tend to have a sort of penny-ante attitude, shaking down motorists and whoever else they can get their hooks into. This irritates the hell out of the average Joe. As I mentioned above though, most Thais don’t get too torn up about corruption, it’s the default setting for anyone who has the position to do so.
The soldiers are liked well enough. I have a place in central Thailand where a bunch of them have retired and they get along well with the locals.

Testy

Clarifying point: I don’t find it odd that Sonthi is friends with the King. I do find it interesting that a Muslim is, at least for the time being, in charge of the country, particularly given the horrific bombing this past weekend. I am curious to see if this has any effect on the southern violence and/or treatment of the Muslims in general.

Yes, I understand. It’ll be interesting to watch. I have not one fact to support the idea but I have always been of the opinion that the bombers in the South were sliding in from Malaysia. Blowing up Buddhist monks just seems like such a non-Thai thing to do, regardless of your religion.

Testy

It’s like this: Thailand’s monarchy is at least 700 years old and quasi-sacred. Constitutional government goes back only to 1932 and has not been stable. The Constitution is ambiguous as to the king’s powers, and King Bhumibol has been reigning since 1946 and is personally very popular; and as a king, he can be perceived as being something stable, impartial, and above partisan politics. This puts him in a position, on very rare occasions, to intervene effectively in political deadlocks before they escalate to armed conflict, as he did in the crisis of 1992, which began with a military coup and ended with the restoration of democratic government.

The question is whether Bhumibol can, or will, intervene in the same way and on the same side this time. Perhaps he’s just as fed up as anybody with Thaksin’s corruption. If he sides with the generals, we can only hope they will keep their promise to restore democracy shortly and that Thailand will not go the way of Burma.