The crackdown is ostensibly aimed at supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire and right-wing populist who was ousted in a bloodless takeover by the armed forces. The junta – the latest in a series of military governments in
The coup has the backing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, reflecting a shift in the Thai ruling class away from Thaksin, who was the target of mass anti-corruption, pro-democracy protests in March.
But far from “restoring” the democratic institutions hollowed out by Thaksin, the military is out to reshape the Thai political system to suit itself and its allies in the business community and the government bureaucracy.
Some analysts argue that the coup was also triggered by the military chiefs’ reluctance to continue Thaksin’s hardline war against Islamist groups in the mostly Muslim south of the country, which has taken 1000 lives since 2003. Another 2000 people have been killed by government forces in a “war on drugs”.
So far, though, conciliation doesn’t appear to be the intent of the junta, which is led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. Early on, coup leaders authorised
The media had already been censored unofficially for years. The main broadcasting outlets are controlled by the government or owned by Thaksin’s family and allies in his party, Thais Love Thais (known by the initials TRT). Thaksin’s increasingly authoritarian drift, along with allegations of corruption, led to the mass protests earlier this year.
The demonstrations in
But Thaksin outmanoeuvred his opponents by calling a snap election in April. As in his earlier election victories in 2001 and 2005, Thaksin’s win was secured with a big rural vote amid a weak opposition boycott.
After winning the vote – which was later found to have been unconstitutional – Thaksin resigned as prime minister, but remained on in the post as a caretaker until elections could be held. The likelihood that Thaksin would have prevailed in yet another vote spurred the military to do what a weak opposition could not – force him out.
The reason for Thaksin’s electoral success was populist measures like universal government health-care subsidies and a debt moratorium aimed at
Meanwhile, Thaksin literally put private business in control of the country. “This antidemocratic stance and shrinking of the public sphere align with the wish of big business to use state power to pursue growth and profits free of the complications of opposition or criticism”, wrote Pasuk Phongpaichit, a leading Thai academic and co-author of a book on Thaksin. “
By the time the military intervened, Thaksin was apparently laying the groundwork for a possible coup of his own by accelerating the promotion of relatives and allies in the military. His rivals acted first.
Meanwhile, the king, whose authority is closely tied to the majority Buddhist religion, is operating behind the scenes to restore his political authority via an alliance with the military, a setup that was dominant during the Cold War, when
All this took place over the heads of the hundreds of thousands who participated in the pro-democracy movement in April.
Since taking power, the military has sought to use the protests’ “people power” imagery, ordering soldiers to smile and pose for pictures with civilians and tourists.
Still, the coup is likely to be challenged. Already, some small left-wing groups have defied the ban on protests, and the rural population will be determined to keep their economic gains made under Thaksin.
[Reprinted from Socialist Worker, newspaper of the US International Socialist Organization. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, October 11, 2006.
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