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September 19, 2006


but it would be premature (to put it mildly) to call this an Islamic or Islamist coup.

You understand he was overthrown by the Thai Army. Oh wait, you do. So why would you even bother writing this?

from Bangkok Pundit, commenting on televised official statements from the coup plotters:

You can see the dramatic change of spokesman. I am sorry but this just cracks me up that the military would go change [from an old military guy] to a young attractive female spokesman to give their coup statements. I can understand that it is likely to have affect for many people in Bangkok who might not look at the military that favourably, but coming from a young female might make it sound nicer.

Vidcaps of the two spokespeople here (scroll down).

He was "cavorting" at the U.N.?

Well, you see what happens when you cavort at the U.N.?

Is Bush due for some cavorting at the U.N., soon? Just wondering.

It would be premature (to put it mildly) to accuse Charles of writing another hysterical piece tying everything done by a Muslim to the Islamofascist Menace.

Also: "cavorting"?

Oh, heavens to Murgatroyd. Charles didn't say it was an Islamist coup, etc. etc. And he wrote a perfectly good post. Give him credit until such time as he actually deserves otherwise.

Also, personally, I'd rather Charles' linguistic flair took the form of 'cavorting at the UN' than a lot of other possibilities I could think of offhand.

He said it was premature to call it an Islamist coup.

Given the nature of the Thai Army, I just don't see why that particular sentence was even necessary.

The rest is fine, yes.

Well, alright, Hilzoy, let them cavort at the U.N. ;)

I've always wondered where Murgatroyd is. And how to spell it.

It was a good post. But it could be the leader of Thailand was doing some Thai dancing at the U.N. Which Laotians refer to as cavorting. I don't know.

"He was "cavorting" at the U.N.?"

Well, John Bolton knows all the swinging joints for swinging swingers.

Long live Plato's Retreat!

spartikus: true, but let him (or her) who has never written a single unnecessary sentence throw the first stone. Or something.

Well, spartikus beat me by 2 minutes and John Thullen by a few seconds, I guess, in the game of Find Charles's Gratuitous Discussion Derailers. But they were milder than usual this time, so maybe it can get on track.

"He said it was premature to call it an Islamist coup."

Yes: "To put it mildly."

This is called "selective editing" or "selective quoting."

Personally, I'd say the "to put it mildly" saved it, particularly since the same post will likely be posted at RedState, where that sentence will become a refutation.

Y'know, jumping on Charles when he's being reasonable really undermines the credibility of the people doing so for when he's not being reasonable.

Because then it's clear that it doesn't matter whether or not Charles is being reasonable, and that instead it's simply about attacking Charles.

Might want to think about that, and try putting something heavy on the knee.

Of course, I dunno why Charles is notifying us of what's in every newspaper and on every news channel, either.

A fair number of people have been comparing Thaksin Shinawatra to Silvio Berlusconi for several years now, incidentally. (That is, in corruption, use of one's personal media empire to gain political power, to use the political power to protect one's media empire and corruption.)

Others things it's premature, to put it mildly, to call the Thai coup of 2006:

1. The opening salvo of the Vogon invasion.
2. Performance art by a German art student.
3. A Tony Award winner.

I'm just throwing that out there, Gary.

Mildly yours,


P.S. The rest is fine. It's a post so nice, I'll say it twice: the rest is fine.

Gary, I'll rest easy knowing you're not talking to me, since by the same logic I was not criticizing Charles in my comment at 8:48.

I'll grab the nearest thing I know to a Thai specialist and say: paging dr ngo, paging dr ngo...

I'm grateful to Charles for putting the links together, I did 3 years of Thai in college hoping to do linguistic research, but things came up to prevent me from going, but I've always retained an interest in Thailand. This WashMonthly article that Drum highlights accords with my impressions, tainted as they are by liberal bias. Thus, in my shorter nasty liberal version, Thaksin was overthrown because he was becoming too much like Bush. The lack of reaction of the King is telling, especially as his intervention in 73, in 92 and in his April discussion with Thaksin. All of this is noted in the Wikipedia link. Also, too, is the absence of concern by the Thai people. Perhaps my friends are atypical, but there was definitely very little concern. So perhaps it is significant that Sondhi is Muslim, but not in the way you think.

Anarch (and dr. ngo): while I appreciate that dr. ngo might, you know, have a life, I would be absolutely fascinated to hear his take on this. I haven't commented on the coup for the simple reason that I have no clue what's going on, and I would love to acquire one.

I don't actually have much of a life, but I did have a dentist's appointment today, which was a distraction. I'll try to catch up on what's just happened and respond tomorrow.

(I mean, I could supply the equivalent of several lectures right now, off the cuff, on the past two and a half centuries of Thai history, up to a couple of years ago, which would undoubtedly provide a rich and rewarding historical context for what's happening right now, but somehow I don't think that's what anyone here [or elsewhere?] is yearning for at the moment.)

somehow I don't think that's what anyone here [or elsewhere?] is yearning for at the moment

I don't know about yearning, exactly, but I'd read it with great interest, and be appreciative of the time and effort spent in composing it. If that's not enough of an incentive, I understand completely.


(I admit, it's just cut and paste, I just wanted to see if it would display)

Yes, LJ, great - it displys fine, but what does it say?

Yes, LJ, great - it displays fine, but what does it say?

Write it down!

I think...

I would read with great interest.

Me too. I hope the dentist's appointment was routine, and not, say, a root canal.

I did 3 years of Thai in college hoping to do linguistic research

Posted by: liberal japonicus | September 20, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Got any stuff/research left?

The King assents to the coup. That's it for Thaksin.

Jonathan Manthorpe, the article writer, is the Sun's Asia expert and is usually the only columnist worth reading in that paper.

while cavorting at the UN

Why 'cavorting'? Because the UN is such a ridiculous institution that representing one's country there, as Bush and many other leaders are doing this week, is inherently unserious?

I stopped reading right there.

Desultory Musings on the Thai Coup of 2006

OK, here I am. Have skimmed through many of the useful links provided by CB (and by Spartikus - the Manthorpe piece is nice, though the headline may be misleading, as it omits an "it seems" that Manthorpe carefully inserted in the text) I assume that anyone who wants to can get up to speed fairly quickly with what is known (and still not known). So my role, as I see it, is to provide a bit of perspective.

- First, the disclaimers. It's NOT about Islam. It's NOT about us.

Although there is an Islamic insurgency in the far south of Thailand, it is physically and culturally removed from the center of action, and there's no likelihood whatsoever that this is any kind of Islamic plot (though Sondhi is a Muslim, he's from Bangkok, not the south). The parallel that jumps to my mind is the "Irish Question" in 19th-century Britain. Governments might fall over their inability to resolve the "IQ" (including Gladstone's once, IIRC), but there was never an Irish threat to England itself. So with Bangkok and its Muslim south.

We can expect almost no change in Thai-US relations, regardless of the outcome of this event, unless we decide to make an issue of it. The Thai are, over the past century and a half or so, the world's finest practitioners of "bending to the prevailing wind" (e.g., they started WWII on Japan's side and ended it with a pro-Allied government - along the way they declared war on the USA, but never delivered the declaration!), and no change of government in modern history has resulted in a significant change in foreign policy.

- So, what IS it about? You'll see a number of theories in the links, most of them equally plausible (or not) at this stage. It's urban (Sondhi, the middle class) against rural (Thaksin, the farmers). It's personal (Thaksin was trying to fire Sondhi). It's for reform OR against reform, depending on the valence you give "reform." It's all of the above, or none of the above. I don't know, but ...

... as a historian, I tend to see it as an interesting overlap of the three major political themes of the past century or so: monarchy, the military, and democracy. Let me take them up in reverse order:

Democracy, in a functional (rather than ritual) sense, is relatively new in Thailand, though lip-service has been paid to it since the 1930s. Except for a brief period between 1973 and 1976 (ended by a military coup), the Thai had no really free elections until the early 1990s. Over the past 15 years, however, they've gotten into democracy in a big way, with numerous meaningful elections AND with the problems associated with such elections, including outright cheating, attempts to "buy" votes either directly (for cash) or for electoral promises, manipulation of the media, &c. I think we're all familiar with these.

Thaksin, the most successful politician of this era, has been frequently compared with Italy's Berlusconi, which seems apt - parlaying a communications empire with populist politics to seize and hold political power. The (rural) masses have been willing to forgive his indiscretions, to judge by election results. But his selling off his largest holding (for $1.9 billion) to a foreign firm (Singapore's Temasek) and managing to avoid taxes on the sale may have pushed the balance against him.

Unlike Italy and most of the West, the military has also played a strong political role in the recent past. They seized power (from the absolute monarchy) in 1932, and continued to hold it, directly or indirectly, for most of the next sixty years. There were some "civilian" governments during that period, but it was clear that they served only as long as the military let them. Coups were abundant (17-18 of them, about half successful), but generally bloodless; a dictator would wake up in the morning, see the tanks surrounding the palace, and be allowed to proceed to the airport, where he could fly off and spend as much as he had managed to salt away while it was his "turn" to rule. That's one reason the Thai public seems relatively blase about this whole thing - they're like Filipinos facing yet another typhoon, or Angelenos an earthquake.

The king is the real wild card in this situation. The absolute monarchy lasted until 1932, and the greatest heroes in Thai history are all kings (led by Chulalongkorn, 1868-1910, grandfather of the current monarch). When the military took over in 1932, they reduced the monarchy to a limited one - roughly comparable to the British in constitutional power - and for twenty years or so the kings had little to say or do. But starting in the 1950s the military started building up the symbolic role of the monarchy again, taking advantage of the fact that young King Bhumibol (b. 1927; r. 1946-present!) was sincere and likeable; the military positioned itself as the protector of King, Country, and Religion (Buddhism).

Over the past half-century, the king has increased in personal* prestige and (therefore) indirect power until it can reasonably be said that no political solution to any crisis is possible without his imprimatur. He still tends to stay in the background, but when he emerges, people pay attention: the last coup (1992) ended when the king scolded the general on TV! The current coup leaders all claim loyalty to the king - which of course they would (as would Thaksin, I'm sure) - and "it seems" that the king is going along with the coup, though he has not given it any kind of public blessing yet. We may never know whether he knew of it in advance or simply approved of it after the fact (it was well known that he disliked Thaksin), but the result is the same, if it appears to the public that he supports it.

*This is very much a personal prestige that Bhumibol has, and it is questionable how much of it will carry over to his heir, whoever s/he may be.

The king has a reputation for being honest, conservative (with a small "c" = move cautiously forward, not leap violently backward), and in favor of Good Things like the environment and democracy. It seems very likely that, even if the coup leaders had not promised to turn the country over to a new government in two weeks (?!), they would have to be seen to be on track toward civilianizing, if not democratizing, the country very soon if they were not to lose the royal and public support they apparently have at the moment.

So, what it looks like now (= 5pm Wednesday, EDT) is that Thaksin is out, the coup is on, there will be little violence, a new government will be appointed shortly, and there will be business as before ...


... the next election. From a pro-coup standpoint, the problem is that they need to have elections to restore democratic legitimacy BUT they don't have any obvious way to beat the proven power of Thaksin's vote-getting machine (centered on the TRT: "Thai Love Thai" party). Stay tuned.

Thanks, Doc. I have learned something today, which means I can now go home.

dr ngo: would you have any objection if I turned this into a front page post? (I quite understand if not.)

Of course, I dunno why Charles is notifying us of what's in every newspaper and on every news channel, either.

Because it's a current event, I spent some time reading about it, and thought that an interesting discussion might ensue. Well, dr ngo aside, two out of three ain't bad.

To clarify on qualifiers, I did write "to put it mildly" and also wrote that the Muslim population in Thailand is less then 5% of the total, which would preclude any sort of popular Muslim uprising.

"The absolute monarchy lasted until 1932, and the greatest heroes in Thai history are all kings (led by Chulalongkorn, 1868-1910, grandfather of the current monarch)."

And no wonder, given the way they can sing and dance, as is well-known in the West.

I'm glad I didn't steer anyone wrong with the Berlusconi analogy earlier.

I wonder what my old acquaintance, Somtow Sucharitkul, who is a royal relation (grandfather's sister was Queen, as I recall), thinks.

Hil: Thanks - was going to request that dr ngo's Thai backgrounder be front-paged. Hopefully he agrees. Oh, and kudos to Charles for initially highlighting this important event and providing a forum for discussion.

It's urban (Sondhi, the middle class) against rural (Thaksin, the farmers).

Not being a careful historian able to balance these things, this is the one I like, at least for the purposes of wild flights of fancy. The whole urban/rural balance is out of whack all over the world, but in Asia in particular. Places like the US and France have been able to finesse it with farm subsidies and the like, but the temptation to pit rural against urban is too great for the average politician. Here in Japan, a long drawn out court decision over the value of a vote ended up actually determining a formula saying that a urban vote was equal to a set fraction of a rural vote te determine a fair formula for determining voting representation. China's problems with rural/urban balances seem to get aired every other week in long NYTimes pieces. The conflict between North and South Korea could be cast as a rural/urban conflict on steroids. Though the in and outs are beyond me, I think the Phillipines has a similar problem, judging by the invocations of populism. The Vietnamese encouraged population growth when their conflict went 'hot' with China and are now having to deal with the ramifications of that. I did some research on English education in Vietnam, and it was interesting because the Vietnamese exam system (which is a combination of a Chinese dragon's gate and a French lycee, thereby doubling the number of tests) is trying to cope with the disparaties that the urban/rural split in education causes, but that isn't enough, so there are a range of bureaucratic fixes that are being employed.

Getting even further out on the hypothesizing spectrum, (if that is possible) finding a way to bridge the gap between urban and rural opportunities, most likely through opportunities provided by information infrastructure and broadband, is the most likely way out of the problem we have. However, a push for privatization and government drownings in a bathtub directly come in conflict with this, because this kind of infrastructure, done to serve an shrinking number of people, is not going to be profitable enough in the short or medium term to have companies take it on.

The problem is also aided and abetted by a modern education systems that strive to impose national requirements on learning in a way that prevents local youth from pursuing a path within their home regions, encouraging further population drain, because schooling is designed to create replacements for urban populations.

This could be dismissed as a liberal fantasy of technology being the key, but the conservative/libertarian attempt of various combinations of making urban life distasteful, trying to set values in stone, and appealing to some national ideal seems to be the only other option.

It is interesting to note that in Alex Kerr's book Dogs and Demons, his introduction uses Thailand as an example of the things that Japan is not and wonders why. What I think separates Thai from other countries is the often noted mai pen rai (don't worry/never mind) philosophy that is truly amazing. I'm sure it is no accident that I ended up in a country that obsesses about where it is in the world and how it has gotten there rather than in one for whom such thoughts never emerge.

Kob Kun Mak Mak Ka! for discussion :D

Traveling to THAILAND na ka! ^^"
We'are very HAPPY that Thanksin Chinawat was fired :D

Thaksin Chinawat is "Adolf Hitler" in Democracy!

KING Bhumipol help us again and again! People in THAILAND have peace again! and everything will go fine day by day now :D



Nice, but not coherent, alas.

Thank you thank you for that contribution dr. ngo! You are definitely not "ngo" at all!

ohmigod what a coincidence.. the kitty gunman pic is the exact same pic I use as my avatar on forums!

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