Monarchy, economy, anti-democracy

12 01 2014

At The Globe and Mail there was a useful report a couple of days ago on the implications of the anti-democracy shutdown.

The basic point of the article was to point out that, for all Thailand’s political shenanigans since about 2005, economically, Thailand “appeared – until recently – an unstoppable powerhouse.” The anti-democracy lot will claim that the economic slowdown of late has been the doing of Yingluck Shinawatra and populist policies. Others will point out that the political shenanigans, throwing out elected governments, shooting down protesters and denouncing democracy may have something to do with economic performance.Wax king

In recent months, the demonstrators once again marshalling in the streets have sent money scurrying away. Tourist visits are down some 15 per cent. In November alone, foreign investors withdrew $3.7-billion from Thailand; in December, the country’s stock market marked a record 11 consecutive days of declines, a reminder that trouble in Thailand has much broader ramifications. At the same time, voices inside the country are warning that without some sort of change, Thailand is at risk of losing out to its economically ascendant neighbours.

But the article says that understanding the perennial political gridlock and “looking for fixes means diving into a mess decades in the making.” It points first to the monarchy:

One aspect is a Thai institution so sacred as to be beyond criticism. Thailand’s monarchy is among the vestiges of a place that prides itself on being the only south-east Asian country without a history of colonization. The current king has reigned since 1946. And while Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, the palace wields influence through what academics call a “network monarchy” whose sway has grown in the past half-century.

In fact, while the palace and its network do work very hard stifling criticism, the horse has bolted. Only draconian laws like lese majeste can manage a deluge of criticism, much of it well justified. Here’s some of it:

Street-level criticism: There is a veritable cottage industry in social media and even on the streets that is critical of the monarchy.The King Never Smiles

Journalistic criticism: the work of Zen Journalist says it all. Forbes is not particularly critical but reveals the monarchy’s previously hidden and massive wealth. The New York Times has also been critical.

Cultural criticism: Prachatai had a useful article on this a week or so ago.

Academic criticism: Duncan McCargo, Michael Connors, Paul Handley, Kevin Hewison, Thongchai Winichakul, and we could go on. It also includes Federico Ferrara, cited in the article, explaining the issue of the power of the monarchy to influence political events.

Federico Ferrara, in his book Thailand Unhinged, describes a “precipitous rise in royal power and prestige” that has “tilted the balance of power in favour of the palace” and its coterie of advisers, judges and military commanders.

Elected officials, as a result, have been unable to “place the military under civilian control, take charge of the machinery of government, and set national policy,” he wrote.King and junta

The claim that “Thailand’s king remains tremendously popular in a country festooned with his portraits,” is an untestable assertion, and the claim attributed to David Streckfuss, that the present king has “had at best a mixed record supporting democracy, and hasn’t allowed a fully democratic political system to emerge,” is deeply flawed. The king has never unequivocally supported “democracy,” except for a crippled version known as Thai-style democracy.





Suthep’s ultimatum

1 12 2013

Suthep Thaugsuban, self-appointed leader of the so-called People’s Democratic Reform Committee, is presented in this “official” statement from the group as directing the government “return power to the people unconditionally” via a “representative People’s Assembly.” To be accurate, he means to hand power to him or his representative, for his cabal of unelected, yellow-shirt leaders, his backers and associated academic flunkies remain faceless. He portrays his group’s “growing power” as evidenced in his ability to force television station to project his statement live. Of course he condemns violence, but only that directed as his lot.

He reveals a meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and military commanders. More on this below the statement by Suthep:

PDRC Statement Number: 2

Issued: 2 DEC 2013

Statement for Immediate Release

People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)

PDRC Secretary-General calls on Prime Minister to return power to the people

Rejecting the divisive, color-coded politics of recent years, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has been established comprising leaders from various organizations participating in the Civil Movement for Democracy (CMD), a broad-based people’s movement committed to rooting out Thaksin’s regime to build an inclusive Thai society based upon sustainable democratic principles. (PPT: This statement appear as a slogan in each release)

Bangkok, 1 December 2013 – Speaking tonight PDRC Secretary-General Suthep Thaungsuban told the Thai people that in a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra earlier in the evening he had demanded the Prime Minister return power to the people unconditionally.

Indicating the growing power of this people’s movement, Khun Suthep’s report on his meeting with the Prime Minister, who was accompanied by the commanders of the armed forces, was broadcast live across most major television channels, following the PDRC’s request to broadcasters to carry the people’s voice

Khun Suthep reported he gave the Prime Minister two days to relinquish power in a direct transfer of power to a representative People’s Assembly, something a growing number of Thai academics are suggesting is permissible under the present Constitution. This people’s movement would then quickly lead to the establishment of a People’s Parliament which would undertake the radical 6-point national reform agenda outlined by the CMD earlier.

Khun Suthep then reiterated his call for all civil servants other state employees to stop working for the illegitimate Thaksin Shinawatra regime, as of tomorrow (Monday 2 December).

Addressing the use of violence against the people’s protest movement over the last two days, Khun Suthep condemned in the strongest possible terms these provocations, reiterated the CMD’s absolute commitment to non-violence and called upon the authorities to refrain from the use of force at all costs.

In the meeting noted above, Army boss General Prayuth reportedly told mob leader Suthep and elected Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Yingluck “that the armed forces did not want to see the people killed or injured and they would stand by the country.” That sounds a little like his mutinous predecessor, General Anupong Paojinda, in 2008, refusing to move against yellow shirts.

While there have been condemnation of the use of the media by protesters, it is noteworthy that The Nation claims to have an “Drama at Ramkhamhaeng University, as it happened” that manages to leave out all of the vicious attacks on red shirts. And, the Bangkok Post can produce anti-government ideologues writing op-eds attributing blame for all deaths and injuries to a prime minister who has been remarkably constrained in the use of the security forces. Imagine the outrage if Yingluck had used the force that the Democrat Party government used in 2009 and 2010.

Based on previous experience with Suthep, when the Democrat Party was placed in power in late 2008, and the calls for anti-democratic actions by his crew that grows directly out of PAD, should a “people’s assembly” get its hands on government via a military or judicial intervention, it is likely to result in witch hunts (remember the anti-monarchy conspiracy Suthep concocted), vast censorship (remember the blanket opposition media censorship under Suthep and Abhisit), “Thai-style democracy” (which will be no democracy at all) and reliance on military backing for the government.

 





Democratic oranges and anti-democratic apples

8 07 2013

At the Bangkok Post there is yet another anti-democratic op-ed, as pointed out by several of PPT’s readers. One of the odd elements in this particular op-ed, by Ploenpote Atthakor, a Deputy Editorial Pages Editor at the Post, is the bizarre equation of Thailand’s small white masks group and “anti-government movements around the world,” including the protesters “at Taksim Square in Turkey to Tahrir Square in Egypt, with the Cairo movement eventually ending with a coup.”

That the “V for Thailand … group” might be compared with demonstrators in Egypt calling for a military coup makes some sense, but in terms of scale and complexity, there is simply no comparison. It is comparing oranges with apples.

That the white masked ones are described as “a gathering of people who simply want to maintain their anonymity” is odd too, for the group is just one more in a long line of activists opposing pro-Thaksin Shinawatra elected governments.

But the point for Ploenpote is to oppose parliamentary politics with a royalist propaganda claim of “dirty and corrupt politicians.” In Thailand, she assert, “it’s rampant corruption that drove people into the streets.” She adds that  “their concerns are more than valid.”

On the face of it, anti-corruption claims are motherhood/fatherhood statements, and there is no doubt that Thailand is riddled with corruption. But this particular “concern” can be shown to be just another restatement of a royalist mantra that is anti-politician and part of the anti-democratic movement to bring down yet another elected government. The use of “corruption” as a moral claim is also a political tool that has been used by both military and monarchy to justify “Thai-style democracy.”

If these “masked men and women” were really dedicated anti-corruption activists, would they be parading pictures of the monarchy and demanding that anyone who doesn’t love the king should leave Thailand? Wouldn’t they actually be interested in corruption? And if they were, where were they when the military has its dirty hands in the till? Where were they when the military-backed Democrat Party-led government was doling out funds to their political allies through the Thai khemkaeng projects?

Obviously, for these “anti-corruption” protesters, there is good corruption (theirs) and bad corruption (Thaksin-related).

This becomes all too obvious when Ploenpote slips from the anti-corruption message to one damning elected politicians for majoritarianism: “When a government is overly confident with its majority and wields the ‘we are democratically elected’ mantra to do whatever it wants, it’s not much different to a dictator.” She then makes the claim, “don’t get me wrong, I know a military dictatorship is much worse” than corrupt politicians, but heads off on an anti-elections rant, saying “[l]et me give some examples of why we are frustrated with our democracy.” While we don’t know who “we” really is, we can assume it is royalist yellow shirts, for the claims are their anti-democratic rhetoric:

Over 80 years since the country became a constitutional democracy in 1932, we have often witnessed the bad side of majority rule….

Thailand has only ever had majority rule in parliament from 2001 to 2006 and 2007 to 2008 and since mid-2011.In the latter two periods, voters have been steadfast in supporting the governments thrown out by unelected military thugs and unelected royalist judges.

… this thing called democracy has not helped us much in getting rid of unscrupulous politicians. The bad guys keep making parliamentary comebacks, and _ more often than not _ to the Norasingha mansion [Government House].

And so on…. to this:

We know it’s a case of democracy going wrong if a government, which claims to attach high importance to reconciliation, regards and treats those with different ideas as “enemies” and instead supports other groups, like red shirts, to counter and confront opposition and sometimes resort to intimidating acts.

This is an old theme for Ploenpote. PPT has only posted once previously on Ploenpote’s musings, when we noted that she attacked red shirts as undemocratic, and stated that she still had a long way to go before she understood the struggle for democracy in Thailand. Her musings, we said, amounted to an ignorant and pompous piece of self-delusional nonsense, made worse by a concocted attempt to appear tolerant when she simply hates red shirts. We added:

This is one of the worst pieces of  “journalism” we have seen for a couple of years. Her claim that “we have not gone anywhere” since 1973 is infantile, hypocritical and ahistorical dribble.

In the current op-ed, she concludes with a lamentable longing for a military coup like that seen in Egypt. She reckons the military is in the government’s pocket, but warns the government should watch out as “those in the silent majority lose their patience.”

Government should listen to the people, during elections and after, yet having the military or judiciary conspire to bring down an elected government is neanderthal nonsense. Maybe the Post needs to publish an edition chipped into stone.





Oppose everything!

3 04 2013

The Democrat Party seems stuck in a yellow past. Or perhaps it is just that they feel ever so comfortable opposing Thaksin Shinawatra and PAD-like, considering every move the government makes as being either to exonerate him or for him to somehow to gain control of Thailand as his personal fiefdom.

So it is that Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva opposes any change to the 2007 constitution that was spawned by the military junta. His reasoning, as detailed in the story is: “they are designed to help the ruling party cling to power rather than improve the political system…. Abhisit said the changes, if approved, would enhance the government’s leverage and serve vested interests.”Abhisit

Perhaps less disingenuously and recognizing that his party seems unable to win national elections, Abhisit said that the effort “to require that all members of the Upper House be elected” was an attempt to “ensure the chamber was filled with government lapdogs.” Some readers may recall that making the Senate half appointed was the military junta’s effort to ensure that parliament could be controlled by the conservative elite. Indeed, the current unelected senators are royalist lapdogs.

So while Abhisit bleats about upholding “democracy and transparency,” he is clearly no democrat. Real democrats would support an elected senate. When in office, placed there by the military-palace cabal, he demonstrated no democratic inclinations.

Abhisit’s recent statements at the yellow-hued island in a sea of red in Khon Kaen saw him expressing his political inclinations differently:

“We are here to bring the truth to the people,” Mr. Abhisit said to a fiery crowd [of yellow shirts]. “We want to show that Thailand is not one of Thaksin’s possessions. We want to protect our democracy and our king.”

Truth from the Democrat Party would be an innovation. Nothing much changes for Abhisit or the Democrat Party. Neither are interested in democracy that isn’t Thai-style, meaning royalist domination and little else.





Updated: Tanks, streets and judges I

11 12 2012

[Update: we have fixed several typos in this post]

Voranai Vanijaka at the Bangkok Post noticed that 10 December is Constitution Day. His comments deserve a couple of PPT posts, and here is the first.

Voranai begins with this: “but with 17 charters since 1932, we can call Dec 10 the day when Thailand celebrates 80 years of fickleness. Charter changes to accommodate the times are one thing; 17 constitutions and counting in 80 years is an entirely different matter.”

The problem with this characterization is that getting rid of constitutions is not about fickleness at all. Rather, getting rid of constitutions has been a task undertaken by the military mainly in the interests of protecting a royalist political system and the privileges associated with it, usually with palace support. Maybe Voranai who, just a few days ago, joined the uncritical adulation of the supposed great monarch, needs a bit of a history lesson to loosen the royalist scales from his eyes.

Pridi

Pridi

The first constitution in 1932 was rejected by the king who demanded that it be “interim,” with royalists thinking they could win back some of the powers they had lost to the commoners who overthrew the absolute monarchy. The “permanent” constitution of 1932 stayed in place until 1946, when it was replaced by what is sometimes said to be Thailand’s most democratic constitution. It was put in place by Pridi Phanomyong supporters.

Soon after, in the 1947 constitution, a coterie of royalist generals and their anti-democratic supporters decided to hand back a set of powers to the monarchy while dealing a death blow to the civilians associated with the People’s Party. It was the People’s Party hating regent, Prince Rangsit who accepted the coup within 24 hours and the new royalist 1947 charter the coup leaders had drafted (the king was back in Switzerland not finishing his studies).

The 1949 charter was drafted by a committee that was headed by the royalist Seni Pramoj and dominated by other royalists beholden to Prince Rangsit and Prince Dhani. As might be expected, this document returned considerable power to the throne and Privy Council. This saw a kind of last gasp effort by the military faction from the People’s Party era, which rolled back some of these powers in the 1952 constitution.

Then the royalist military under General Sarit Thanarat took over in 1957 and ruled by decree until 1959 when there was a “temporary charter” announced that was the shortest in Thai history and stayed in place – temporarily – for nine years. It was put in place and mutually supported by king and military as a highly repressive document that allocated almost untrammeled power to the premier (always a military man). There was a “parliament,” but it was appointed and packed with military men and did the bidding of the premier.

Sarit

Sarit

When the military finally came up with the 1968 constitution, it gave sweeping powers to the military. The senate was royally appointed and could delay legislation. The king approved Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn’s entire list of mostly military nominees to the senate.

Not surprisingly, this parliament looks a little like the “Thai-style democracy” promoted by modern-day royalists who hate the idea of elected politicians actually ruling. Not even this was adequate for the military bosses, who ditched the 1968 charter in November 1971, declared martial law, and ruled with little legal or political constraint. Thirteen months later, the military brass drafted the 1972 constitution, pretty much the same as the royalist-Sarit version of 1959, banning political parties and appointing legislators, with 200 of the 299 appointees being military and police.

King and prince

King, prince and PM Thanom

When this lot were finally booted out in October 1973, the king appointed a constitutional selection committee which, unexpectedly, came up with a very liberal draft of a constitution which was vigorously opposed by palace and royalists, who managed to water down many of the liberal aspects of the 1974 constitution before it was promulgated. Of course, as the palace and military grew weary of democratic politics and incessant political squabbling, the constitution was ditched following the bloody events of October 1976 and the coup supported by the king. The king appointed the rightist royalist Thanin Kraivixien as premier and his government produced a remarkably reactionary and royalist constitution in 1976 that allowed the king to appoint the entire National Assembly made up of almost entirely bureaucrats and and military men, with the king given the unprecedented power to propose legislation to the assembly.

So repressive was the king’s premier and his regime that the military threw it out in a coup led by General Kriangsak Chomanand.  The king objected to Kriangsak’s coup and refused to sign the new 1977 charter even though it was pretty much the same as the 1976 basic law. Kriangsak proceeded to draft a barely more liberal constitution in 1978, that moderated royal powers. The palace was not amused.

Kriangsak

Kriangsak

The problem the king had with Kriangsak was only solved when royalists managed to engineer his replacement by General Prem Tinsulanonda, a palace favorite, who stayed in power without ever seeking election but with remarkably strong palace support, but did permit the gradual evolution of tame political parties. Eventually, in 1988, an elected prime minister took the prime ministership, only to be ousted in a military coup in 1991 that ditched the 1978 constitution.

There was considerable debate on what became the 1991 constitution. To cut long story short, the military junta to monopolize power. In the end, it was the king who provided the support for the junta when he received the draft constitution by fax, made some minor changes, faxed it back, and then  stated that the junta’s constitution wasn’t “fully adequate,” but should be promulgated because it was “reasonable.” Again, the king had intervened for an undemocratic junta constitution.

The result was the May 1992 uprising that eventually saw the development of the so-called people’s constitution in 1997. When Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by yet another military coup supported by the palace, that charter was unceremoniously dumped.

That military junta headed by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin set in place mechanisms to develop its own 2007 charter. The major innovation was a referendum. When approved, the Asian Human Rights Commission described a “heavy-handed undemocratic atmosphere…”, stating that the “… junta … coerced, threatened, bought and cajoled part of the electorate…”. Even the Bangkok Post (1 August 2007) claimed the process had a “facade of being a democratic choice… ”, adding “[t]his is not democracy, this is not the rule of law.”

General Sonthi

General Sonthi

This account shows that Voranai’s story of “fickleness” is nonsense. Worse, it can be seen as obscurantist as it deliberating conceals the central roles of the monarchy and military in the story of “serial constitutionalism.” It obscures the fact that it has been the monarchy and military that have worked assiduously to prevent democratization and to throw out  constitutions as it suited them.

Now that the Puea Thai Party-led wants to amend this undemocratic constitution, Voranai says the obstacles are “First, tanks in the streets; second, protesters in the streets; third, Constitution Court judges on the bench.” As can be seen above, tanks – meaning the military – have been the most usual method of opposing constitution reform that is liberalizing. They have most usually done that with or for the palace.





Wikileaks: Anand on the 2006 coup

7 03 2012

Following the 19 September 2006 palace-military coup, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce met with palace insider and former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun. Boyce’s conversation with Anand is reported in a cable dated 21 September 2006. Boyce considered Anand as “Thailand’s most distinguished elder statesmen.” He also notes that “Anand made waves in August [2006] when he publicly denounced Thailand’s course under Thaksin [Shinawatra].”

Anand

Boyce begins by recounting that Anand’s view on the coup was that it had “forestalled imminent political violence between Thaksin’s enemies and loyalists.” Helpfully, Boyce points out that the People’s Alliance for Democracy “had called for a major rally on September 20 to persuade Thaksin to resign. Thaksin’s allies publicly condemned the plan and rumors arose of an impending crackdown on protesters by security forces.”

That Anand is repeating a mere rumor suggests that he was either disconnected from the reality of political events or, far more likely, was conjuring a justification for the coup that foreigners might “buy.” After all, none of the coup “explanations” and justifications for the coup by the junta really gave this rumor much credence.

While Anand reportedly stated that “he could not have advocated a coup,” he was crystal clear in stating that he supported it. He claimed that “Thaksin’s administration had already become undemocratic.” For a twice unelected and appointed premier, the claim to democracy is more than a bit rich. Neither of his administrations was to be overthrown by the military-palace clique as he represented each.

He added that:

Thaksin had controlled the media, suppressed the free flow of information, and manipulated an uninformed electorate. He had corrupted the judiciary, to the point that court cases against him could not proceed. He had sabotaged the Constitution, manipulating political institutions that were supposed to be independent, destroying the system of checks and balances set up by the 1997 Constitution. Thaksin’s administration lacked accountability and transparency. In this environment, elections by themselves hardly ensured democracy. Thaksin blocked off all avenues for political change, leaving his opponents no option other than a coup.

Yes, Thaksin was powerful and had some arrogant and authoritarian tendencies. After all, his party controlled 75% of the seats in parliament, having won a massive electoral landslide. But had he done all of this and did his power demand a coup by a bevy of unelected and unrepresentative agents?

Here we see the patrician Anand expressing his position that ignorant voters were “manipulated.” The same Anand, of course, has never been elected to anything. He is a member of the elite that is selected for their powerful positions through birth, connections and money. He’d be lucky to know anyone from the “uninformed electorate,” unless they are his drivers, maids and gardeners.Maybe they could have told him whether elections had anything to do with democracy.

Did Thaksin corrupt the judiciary? He tried to but was far less successful than, say, the monarchy in getting the judiciary to do his bidding. Indeed, prior to the coup, he lost one very significant case that was seen as a measure of media freedom when journalist Supinya Klangnarong was sued for a fortune. She won.

This case also relates to the idea that Thaksin controlled the media. We think he’d have like to have had more control. He lost the case against Supinya and by early 2006, almost every newspaper was attacking Thaksin. Also, the military control a big segment of the electronic media, and Thaksin didn’t win control of them.

Did Thaksin try to pervert the independent agencies? The answer on that has to be yes, but that he still faced resistance from some of them.

In other words, Anand is both a consumer and purveyor of the royalist elite’s position on Thaksin that justified a coup. We think the elite essentially took a lazy way of working against Thaksin. These people simply couldn’t be bothered fighting Thaksin on democratic and lawful grounds; it was “easier” just to get the praetorian guard to ditch him out and restore Thai-style (non-)democracy.

Emphasizing Anand’s royalism, he argues that:

Thaksin further aggravated the Thai people by appearing to put himself on the same level as the King. Anand stopped short of characterizing Thaksin as disloyal to the King, but he said Thaksin failed to understand how many people came to perceive him as hostile to the monarchy.

PPT can’t recall the “Thai people” being aggravated. The royalist yellow shirts used this line as a way to weaken Thaksin but, frankly, most Thais weren’t buying it as anything other than royalist propaganda. Again, Anand is a member of a cabal of royalists who convinced themselves of Thaksin’s “disloyalty.”

Anand also noted “Thaksin had brought trouble upon himself by picking fights with Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda…”. We’d suggest that it was Prem who chose to fight Thaksin and actively planned his downfall by Prem’s men in the military.

Anand’s political views are further revealed when he is asked about “constitutional reform.” He is said to have:

acknowledged problems in the 1997 Constitution, and he advocated abolishing the Senate as a non-partisan elected body…. A better alternative would be a House of Lords model, with the Senate consisting perhaps at least in part of former high-ranking officials, appointed in a transparent, systematic process.

Ah, yes, Anand feels like an English lord perhaps.Again, he is opposed to the idea of elections, and advocates the oxymoronic notion of appointments of “high-ranking officials” in a “transparent” manner. Anything but elections!

Boyce uses Anand as a tool in making his point to Washington that the coup is acceptable:

Given Anand’s experience as a Prime Minister who was appointed by a coup-instigating junta and then worked to restore democracy to Thailand, the ease with which he accepts the CDRM’s claim of noble intentions is noteworthy.

Well, of course he does; it is what he wanted. Get rid of Thaksin and put the patrician royalists back in their rightful position as rulers and string-pullers.

Boyce then makes the somewhat surprising admission:

This elitist point of view — shared by many wealthy and educated Thais, especially in Bangkok — gets to the heart of Thaksin’s claim about revolutionizing Thai politics, precisely by taking on these entrenched elites.

Indeed. What Boyce – and the royalist elite – doesn’t foresee is that their day is essentially gone, and the struggle to push the old and rich duffers aside would continue until today.





Wikileaks: Briefed by the junta

4 03 2012

In yet another Wikileaks cable dated 20 September 2006, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce details a briefing provided by Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin, fronting the junta’s then rather aptly named Council for Democratic Reform Under the Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM). The briefing was provided for the diplomatic corps and defense attaches and was held, symbolically, at the Army’s headquarters. The rest of the CDRM was also in attendance: Supreme Commander and heads of the Navy, Air Force, Police and National Security Council.

As is well-known, it was at this briefing (and in related announcements) that the CDRM provided its justification for deposing the elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra:

a lack of political confidence; rampant nepotism; corruption; unprecedented social divisions in Thailand; the inability of administrative institutions to function properly without political interference; social injustice, and offenses to the Thai monarch.

Sonthi apparently stressed that the military’s goal was to “make democracy a reality in Thailand.”However, Boyce notes that “Sonthi was evasive when pressed to explain exactly what had prompted the coup.” PPT has never considered Sonthi very bright and we think the “evasion” is just Sonthi being unwilling to say that he was ordered to do it.

All Sonthi says is that the military had “recently … learned certain facts about the (Thaksin) caretaker government. This information convinced us that further waiting would not result in democracy, so we acted.” He doesn’t say what they knew but adds that the military “have received numerous requests to act, to bring peace and normalcy back to the country.” He doesn’t say who made the “requests” but when pressed by the Australian ambassador, he replied: “The people requested us to act; they were not receiving the benefits of democracy. A democracy formed by the people did not exist.”

It is noted that the “CDRM members had an audience with the King and Queen,” but no details are provided in this cable. For those, see this cable posted some time ago, where Sonthi claims the king was “happy, smiling throughout” the meeting with the CDRM cabal of military leaders.

What is somewhat surprising is Sonthi’s statement in reply to a British diplomat, who seems to have been more persistent in questioning and skeptical of the junta than Boyce, who noted that “Sonthi had said that the coup was prompted by ‘certain facts’ concerning Thaksin which, while unspecified, must be fairly serious given the actions they provoked.” He noted that “the CDRM does not have any plans to take any legal action against Thaksin. What, asked the UK Charge, has Thaksin done?”  Sonthi replied that Thaksin “has not done anything legally incorrect…”. 

Boyce

Seemingly unable to grasp the enormity of a coup that has thrown out a premier elected with the biggest ever electoral vote, Boyce says “the good news here is that he has committed to move toward civilian rule in two weeks. We should welcome this commitment…”. It seems clear that Boyce has also welcomed the illegal putsch. Of course, Boyce had met with Sonthi in advance of the coup, several times, and knew his thoughts on Thaksin. At that time, Boyce provided succor to the general, assuring him that “policymakers in Washington … have noted that the military continues to conduct itself in a professional manner, staying on the sidelines of this crisis, and that this can largely be attributed to Sonthi himself.”

Sonthi is reported as saying that “there is no intention, whatsoever, for military involvement in the current crisis.” We doubt Boyce believed him, but he continually repeated this line to Washington. We can only speculate that Boyce knew more than he let on, for he makes no point about being misled by Sonthi in these earlier chats.

When Sonthi was asked by the Finnish ambassador about a return to democracy, the dullard in Sonthi was revealed when he replied: “Thailand is 100 percent democratic now; our reason for action is that we want real democracy in our country.” Military types seldom understand the meaning of democracy, and we assume that Sonthi is blathering about “democracy with the king as head of state.”

Boyce is critical of Sonthi for not anticipating these questions and having pat answers prepared, “[e]ven after making due allowance for the fact that the CDRM members had not gotten any sleep the previous night…”. Poor guys. Throwing out elected governments is no picnic. However, and more seriously, as noted above, we doubt Sonthi could even conceptualize electoral democracy from “Thai-style democracy,” which is no democracy at all, but a royalist regime.

Boyce seems to have been quiet and prepared to accept the coup without much questioning at all. We can only imagine that other ambassadors must have been surprised by his acquiescence but they probably also knew his support for crown and the men with guns.








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