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September 20, 2006


The BBC reports:

"The head of the coup, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, has said he will appoint a new prime minister within two weeks.

He has also promised the interim government will draft a new constitution with the aim of restoring democracy within a year."

Does anyone know whether there is (thought to be) an actual problem with the existing Constitution? Or is this just Sonthi Boonyaratglin saying something to provide an excuse for the coup? If there is a problem, what is it (thought to) be?

Some corroborative detail, from an e-friend currently teaching in Bangkok (where she recently moved from Egypt):

At midnight I was woken by a phonecall. I was half asleep when I picked it up.



"There is no school tomorrow, because of revolution."


"No school tomorrow. Don't go to school. Because of revoltion."


"Maybe I have wrong word.....er....R ...E... V... O... L... U... T... I... O... N?"


"Yes! Yes, revolution. Is revolution. No school."




So yesterday I didn't go to school, which meant I had no internet access - thus the radio silence from me yesterday.

It's all very peaceful, though, tanks notwithstanding. And the king agrees with the revolution, and EVERYONE adores the King (it would not be an exaggeration to put him on a par with Mohamed in Egyptian terms. Seriously. We have an altar to him here in the school. Everyone LOVES him. When he was sick earlier in the year, thousands of people dropped everything and went to camp outside the hospital. Insulting the king is one of the few ways you could get a Thai person to resort to physical violence.) Thaksin's been v. unpopular for a while, and there were protests last year that only calmed down when the king stepped in - this is a very Thai way of getting rid of him. They wait until he leaves the country, and then lock the door behind him.

This discussion gives me a flashback to the early sixties. I was a freshman in college and a Thai graduate student lived down the hall. One afternoon he showed my roomate and me a book of beautiful photos of his home country.

Leafing through the pages he got to a section near the end which had the official pictures of the country's top leaders.

"This is the King," he said, showing a splendid image that made us think of European royalty.

"And this is the President," he continued. We concluded at this point that Thailand's monarchy was something like those we already knew, figure-heads and all that.

"And this," he said, turning another page, "is our dictator."

We were amazed at the casual way that he showed us these pictures, never breaking that serene South Asian expression or showing any indication there was any problem moving from king to president to dictator...and having them all shown together in a single published book!

It was an early lesson in how, uh, carefully (?) democracy can be practiced in other parts of the world.

I think Dr. Ngo should post here more often :).

i now know ten times more about Thailand than i did yesterday.

Up until yesterday, pretty much all I knew about Thailand was that it was a dream-vacation spot for pedophiles. So the ratio's a lot higher for me.

Up until yesterday, pretty much all I knew about Thailand was that it was a dream-vacation spot for pedophiles.

that, and the food, and that song "One Night in Bangkok", and that "King And I" remake with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat.

I was in Bangkok in 1992 during the last coup. A fair number of people were killed (there were accusations afterwards that many more simply disappeared) by the army as they protested and rioted. Some government buildings were torched as well. It was somewhat surreal to walk down an Khao San Road (the centre of Bangkok's backpacker district), be allowed to pass by a military "checkpoint" where the soldiers ignored foreigners entirely and then walk the block or so the the main square where several hundred Thais, led by monks, were marching and chanting under the guns of hundreds of troops positioned behind coils of razor wire.

As Dr. Ngo mentioned, the king summoned the two main political opponenents, a very recently retired top general and his populist opponent, to an audience. Protocol required both men to walk toward the seated king on their knees. The footage and photos of the two of them crawling on their knees and then listening to the king were all over the tv and papers. The ex-general was in an Armani suit (he had the reputation of being a proud and powerful man) while the populist wore his usual simple peasant clothes (he cultivated the image of simplicity and humility). Not surprisingly, the images appeared to seal the ex-general's political fate (and this appeared to have been the king's intention by allowing the audience to be filmed and photographed).

Thanks for providing this information.

This is yet another example of the fact that blogs, for all the criticism, can often be vastly more informative than other media.

To dr ngo: You'd say Chulalongkorn is a greater Thai hero than Mongkut?

Let me catch up with a few of my interlocutors, both on this thread and the previous one:

Hilzoy: An excellent question about the constitution, for which I have only a rather vague answer. I don't know exactly what the coup leaders object to in the current constitution, but their abrogation of it was immediate and apparently central to their actions, leaving the country, for the moment, without one.

We must realize that Americans hold our "Constitution" in greater regard than the vast majority of the world's peoples do theirs. Over time ours has taken on a sacredness, or at least respectability, which simply doesn't apply to more recent ones, which are often changed as regularly as last season's clothes. [This is, for me, a purely hypothetical comparison - I'm still wearing clothes older than some of the ObWi regulars, I suspect.] (For that matter, Americans don't seem to have worried much about dumping the Articles of Confederation back in the day!)

Thailand has had a number of constitutions since the 1932 end of the absolute monarchy, and the current one (1997) is presumably tainted by its association with Thaksin, who was instrumental in passing it AND who has - in the views of his critics - systematically abused it. Supposedly non-partisan branches of the government have been politicized, &c. (True cynics might also point out that T. keeps winning elections under it, in itself a possible motive for changing it.) Beyond that I cannot say.

Hilzoy (earlier): Thanks for your concern, but the dentist appointment was quite routine. I only mentioned it as a partial excuse for my tardiness in getting up to speed ... as opposed to, say, the fact that I was watching "Firefly."

Anarch: Yes, I think Chulalongkorn is a greater Thai hero than his daddy. (Parenthetical sigh - the lack of respect for the paternal generation is much to be regretted, of course.) He has bigger statues; he has the top university named after him; I think he gets longer chapters in textbooks, &c. The problem is that Mongkut's greatest achievement, in a sense, was to surrender gracefully to the pressure of the West, to concede minimal reforms in order to retain Siam's independence. It was, arguably, both wise and courageous, but is not "heroic" as we like to understand the term. It was Chula who actually instituted reforms, built up the administration and the army and the educational system and the other institutions that made Thailand "modern."

Slarti: I'm happy to post here whenever I encounter a topic in which I think my remarks might be welcome. You must bear in mind that unlike some others (GF at the forefront, of course) I don't really try to keep up on the very latest developments in anything, even my "area," so mine are likely to be more reflective essays than cutting-edge commentary.

CB: I didn't mean to tweak you about the Islamic connection. I realized you did not intend it seriously, which is why I didn't mention you on that point, and did acknowledge your excellent collection of links. But having the "Muslim" question opened - by anyone, under any rubric - I thought I ought to close it as quickly and definitively as I could. Sorry if that seemed like an attack on you.

LJ: I don't really have any comments on your rural-urban fantasy and fugue - it has possibilities, if one could pin it down - but commend to your attention (and that of others here) a truly prescient
essay in Far Eastern Economic Review wrtten before the actual coup, I believe, which sets out the grounds of conflict between the King and Thaksin more articulately than any other account I've seen.

If I've missed anyone's queries, let me know. I appreciate comments by Hootsbuddy, Yukoner, and Dr. Science, but have nothing to add to them.

Addendum on Hilzoy's constitution question:

I've just seen an article in the Asia Times by Shawn W. Crispin that seems on point here:

Thaksin's ouster will pave the way for important democratic reforms, which under the military's and monarchy's watch will broadly aim to dilute the power of the executive branch, limit the power of large political parties, and strengthen the independent checking and balancing institutions that Thaksin stands accused of undermining.

With the likely legal dissolution of Thaksin's powerful Thai Rak Thai political party, the nation now seems set to return to the wobbly coalition politics composed of several competitive middle-sized parties that characterized Thai democratic politics throughout the 1990s after the last coup in 1991 and the restoration of civilian rule after the bloody street protests of 1992.

More significant, perhaps, Thaksin's departure from the political scene will allow the Privy Council and the palace to plan without worries for a dynastic transition that maintains the centrality of the monarchy in Thai society. Thai democratic history shows that the country often takes one step backward to take two steps ahead, and Tuesday's royally backed coup is consistent with that tradition.

Sorry if that seemed like an attack on you.

Didn't take it as one, dr. Having written about Islamist attacks in Thailand last week, I investigated the angle, then dismissed it after further reading.

DIRELAND posts an on-the-ground report from writer/journalist Alan Platt:

One tries not to be blasé. One paints a picture of toy soldiers and a national love-in of reconciliation, perhaps, but that's the mood here. It's a bit Woodstock right now, to be perfectly honest.

Bomber jet planes
Riding shotgun in the skies
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation

Sorry, Joni Mitchell. Couldn't resist the quote. Nobody wants a coup, of course, if only because it makes this well educated, aggressively modern and fairly functional country sound like some sort of Asian banana republic. But in a way, it's provided the perfect outcome. Thaksin, his extensive cohort and the impenetrable undergrowth of venality he sowed and nurtured, is suddenly gone. Just like that. In retrospect, it was exactly the right move for this particular budding democracy, weird as that sounds and strange as it felt to type thosewords. As the Bangkok Post titled this morning's leader "A Step back To Take A Step Forward." Let's hope so. But the coup leaders today broadcast a ban (which they claim is temporary) on all activity by political parties. Nobody appears to know just what that means, including the head of the largest opposition formation.

And one must remember that this marginally rose-tinted report is being written in Bangkok, epicenter of Thaksin hatred. There are few here who mourn his ejection, despite its martial flavor. Outside of Bangkok and the South, where he is roundly pilloried, the Shinola could very well hit the fan at any moment if his peeved loyalists organize, and they are still legion (including elements of the army.). The vast and heavily populated region of Isaan which borders Laos and Cambodia and is the voting equivalent of America's rural blue states, could erupt at any moment. Blood always runs hot in Isaan. They are the ones who have something to lose by thedisgrace and banishment of old Moneybags. They were the beneficiaries of his largesse. It was in dirt-poor Isaan that he would stump around the villages handing out wads of cash to buy votes, quite openly and in insolent disregard of everything democratic. Unfortunately it was not his money that he was throwing around for his own benefit at the time. It was Thailand's.

FP Passport points to an ironic CFR Q&A with Thaksin:

Q: In your vision of a Thai democracy, who provides the check and balances on the military and security class?

THAKSIN: The role of military is [decreasing] in terms of involving in politics. So we don't need a check and balance system on that part anymore because...this is [the] 21st century...[t]he memory is still about the 20th century. This is 21st. I think things [are] changing a lot. Thank you.

At TiO, I've added a few links and sentences to my comment above

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