Thailand and Myanmar’s generals

25 02 2021

Oren Samet has a useful article at The Diplomat. “The Myanmar Public Fights Not to End Up Like Thailand” makes some points that need attention. It begins:

A week after overthrowing Myanmar’s elected civilian government on February 1, coup leader [Gen] Min Aung Hlaing sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha asking – with no hint of irony – for his help in supporting “democracy” in Myanmar. The letter was revealing not for what it said, but for who it was addressed to. Prayut is, himself, a former general, who overthrew Thailand’s elected government in 2014 and has been in charge ever since. When it comes to coups, Thailand’s generals know what they’re doing.

As we know, and despite initial silence and opacity, in recent days, representative’s of Myanmar’s military junta have been meeting with Thai counterparts – most of whom were a part or associated with Thailand’s own military junta in 2014-19.

As far as we know, this is the first overseas visit by a Myanmar government representative since its hugely popular and elected government was thrown out by the coup.

According to Samet, the Myanmar generals are following a Thai script:

When Min Aung Hlaing made his first televised statement since taking power, he repeatedly emphasized that government policies would remain unchanged and welcomed continued foreign investment. Despite the disastrous consequences of previous military takeovers in Myanmar, he promised that this coup would be different.

He might as well have said, “this time we’re doing it Thai style.”

Samet rightly points out that Gen Min Aung Hlaing:

has close connections to the Thai military. He received multiple high-level honors from the Thai authorities, even after orchestrating the Rohingya genocide in 2017. Prem Tinsulanonda, a previous Thai general turned prime minister, considered Min Aung Hlaing his “adopted son.”

Thailand’s royalist military and the interfering Gen Prem has, from the ashes, helped in bringing authoritarianism back to Myanmar.

But, as the world knows, the Myanmar generals are facing stiff opposition. This is not, as Samet claims, being unable to follow the Thai example, but different circumstances. In 2014, the Thai generals didn’t face widespread opposition because they had eliminated, through repression and jailings, the red shirt opposition and its leaders. At the same time, like Thailand’s yellow shirts who hated Thaksin Shinawatra, in Myanmar, several public intellectuals with civil society links have gone over to the generals and express an intense hatred of Aung San Suu Kyi and her alleged arrogance.

The other thing that the Thai military might have shown their buddies across the border is that it is possible to wait out civil opposition while picking off some of that oppositions leadership. The men with guns know that peaceful protest can often be waited out.


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