My recent post on the Asia Foundation seminar on the Thai coup by James Klein has generated significant discussion. Yesterday I received a summary of the seminar. Of course, this is just one perspective from an audience member but it does provide some interesting insights. Here it is:

Dr. Klein — who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand in the 1970s and has maintained a long time association with that country in service with the Asia Foundation — was both predictably cautious when addressing the sensitive royalty issue and somewhat apologetic regarding the coup and interim government. He wanted to dispel what he feared were several common misconceptions regarding the coup:

1. If there were an election, Thai Rak Thai party would win

Dr. Klein pointed out that Thaksin forged one super party in such a way that he was in a unique position to pursue political power with great efficiency, but under the normal party structures, Thaksin would not have been able to orchestrate such a unified amalgamation. Dr. Klein spent a lot of time trying to disabuse people in the audience of the notion that Thaksin was actually as powerful as his electoral victories made him appear. The future appears to hold for a coalition form of government, although he made no predictions.

2. Coup was Anti-Democratic

Dr. Klein insisted it was an anti-coup coup. He pointed out that Thaksin had dissolved parliament and established a caretaker government — but when Thaksin declared he was once again prime minister, that was against the constitution. The central point here is that the military coup was a counter coup, not an act of deliberate constitutional denial.

3. Military wanted to re-establish military dominance over political institutions

Dr. Klein’s main point here is that the coup’s interim government, however mediocre or ineffectual, was abiding by every one of its timetable criteria. He further emphasized that the generals realize they are not politicians and that this was not a return to the old military interventionist order. Most of the constitutional changes that are being proposed are not radical alterations of the 1997 constitution.

4. Coup was to preserve the monarchy

Dr. Klein’s point on this topic was that by definition thailand is a constitutional monarchy. anything done in support of the basic elements of the 1997 constitution would automatically necessitate recognition of the monarchy — this was mentioned to deal with the notion that Thaksin appeared to be in favor of a republican form of government and also that Thaksin had exhibited anti-royal tendencies.

There were plenty of other questions and topics. Even when delivering a speech on thailand while on American soil, Dr. Klein declined to say anything about the king — that cautiousness was quite apparent.