Election, reform or coup

28 12 2013

Thailand looks likely to end the year in conflict and political stalemate. The Yingluck Shinawatra government has called for an election and the major opposition party has joined street protesters and will boycott the poll, as it did in 2006.

If this election goes ahead, those who oppose the government will not consider it legitimate, and the impasse will remain. In 2006 the impasse was broken by yet another palace intervention, judicial meddling and, eventually the September 2006 military coup. With candidate registration now blocked in the south, legal cases will grow like topsy and the whole process will be called into question.

Those who oppose an election do so in the hope that they can once again change the rules of politics so that elections do not return pro-Thaksin Shinawatra governments. Following the 2006 coup a similar process was seen, in the form of the construction of the 2007 constitution. This is what the protesters mean when they use the term “reform.”

Such reform should be unacceptable for those who support democratic development and electoral representation rather than the rule by elites.

So is there a way out of the political impasse?

Of course, another military coup is now firmly back on the political agenda. And, if the media is to be believed, it has some support from an odd source. The usual source is the military itself. Army boss Prayuth Chan-ocha has, according to The Nation, “has refused to rule out the possibility of a military coup.”  The Bangkok Post reports on the interview:

Gen Prayuth said a coup could happen, but would depend on the situation and timing. He believed that at this stage nobody would listen to the military even if it did stage a putsch.

“The military does not shut or open the door to a coup, but a decision depends on the situation,” Gen Prayuth said.

“The military is now adhering to peaceful means and trying to place itself in a neutral position, not taking sides. We are not doing anything to interfere with the work of the authorities, while looking to take care of the people.”

Prayuth knows that the military can make political capital from this impasse, and while he states the military is neutral, inaction is also a politicized decision.

While Prayuth stated that the “armed forces will do what they can to prevent violence,” some of the evidence suggests not all of his subordinates agree with him. Indeed, in the report at The Nation, it appears that Prayuth is critical of police, called for investigations of shootings, and seems to suggest that agents provocateur were at work:

They might think that without violence, the country’s problems cannot be solved and they cannot succeed. I cannot be sure, but it appears their actions are similar to those used in 2010. I’m not sure if this group took part in the [anti-Abhisit Vejjajiva government] protest…”.

We do not recall Prayuth calling for the 2010 events to be “thoroughly investigated.”

In an odd turn of events, but confirming that the military could be political winners, at the Bangkok Post, Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul is reported to have “admitted on Friday that some Pheu Thai Party members would prefer another military coup to a regime dictated by the agenda of the anti-government protesters.” He is reported to have said: “They would prefer seeing the military tear up the constitution” to seeing the future of the country in the hands of ”those people coming from nowhere…”. He means the anti-democracy movement. It is a strange day when the military seems politically moderate when compared with extremists. Perhaps it is “good cop/bad cop” at work?

Perhaps the most likely way out is for hurried judicial action, as in 2008. More violence would be a pretext for this intervention. Cases are piling up, and a strategic judgement or a series of them could easily bring an end to the impasse, yet based on previous decisions, this path would be a win for the anti-democrats.



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