Coup d’Etats in Thailand

Many foreign observers of Thailand may be perplexed as to the frequency of Thai coups. Why are they so frequent? I have read in the news today that Gen. Chavalit, the former deputy Prime Minister, who has just resigned in the wake of the unrest two or three days ago, said that the situation now is such that only a coup d’etat is possible. According to him there is no other way out of the impasse.

Which brings about the very peculiar nature of Thai coups. To most people in the world, coup d’etats are violect acts and frequently what has happened is that the perpetrator of the coup wanted to gain political power for himself by toppling the government. So it is rightly regarded as an illegal act, a high treason. But the frequency and the relatively harmless Thai coups point to the fact that perhaps Thai coups belong to some kind of “unwritten” Thai constitution. That is, the coups are part and parcel of the working order of Thai politics.

So here are the components of Thai politics: There are the elected MP’s who form governments; there are the urban middle class such as the PAD who are usually opposed to the majority MP’s because they come from the rural areas which the urban middle class look down upon. But the military is also a player in politics too. Note that this is not the same as in the past where the military took power for themselves. If there is to be a coup right now, what the coup leader can do is nothing more than holding power for a short period of time and then arrange for an independent government. This is a familiar pattern, and it shows that coup d’etats are a part of ‘normal’ Thai political process.

But there is a caveat. In order for this arrangement to work, all parties have to subscribe to the ‘unwritten’ agreement — such as the military cannot hold on power and so forth. But then after a coup the coup leader has sovereign power all to himself. He can do anything and his decree will become law of the land. What would be effective in stopping him from doing anything he pleases in the case he does not listen to the unwritten agreement? This is scary.

Now back to Buddhism…


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