I have asked a number of Thailand observers in Australia to provide quick reactions to the coup. I will add more as they come in.
Cavan Hogue, previously Australia’s ambassador to Thailand:
It’s a sad business. I was convinced those days were over. This seems to be another case where democracy is only good if it gives the result you want. The Bangkok elite was clearly anti-Thaksin but any properly conducted vote would get him elected by the rural people. So Thaksin is a crook – does that mean the Army can throw out John Howard and his mob? You don’t strengthen institutions by overthrowing them every time they give a result you don’t like.
John Funston, head of the National Thai Studies Centre (from ABC television):
The Thai military, of course, always claim when they conduct coups that this is a coup for democracy. But in a funny way I think this indeed may be the case on this particular occasion, that we may see elections that are more democratic and we may see institutions which will retain their independence more clearly. (For a full transcript go to the ABC web site.)
Michael Connors, political scientist at Latrobe University:
I want to suggest several points. One is not to write off the democracy activists who secretly feel good about the coup – basically they were not able to command sufficient forces to bring down Thaskin, even though they played the royalist card. We have to understand their dilemma. I personally see no difference between a coup and a royally appointed government, unless we want to take democratization narratives in academia seriously. While the pseudo international democracy promoters will decry the coup as a terrible step backwards they have been silent on extra-judicial killings and the slide into authoritarianism under Thaksin . Their tears for democracy are crocodile tears. There are those who have fought for democracy in Thailand who will see the military intervention as a signal of failed dreams, invested in the 1997 constitution. We can only agree. But the coup is not the worst of it, Thaksin is. The low point was before the coup. I have no investment in abstract models of democratization. The coup was not a coup against a democratic government. But it did pre-empt the possible emergence of a mass movement, taking shape in the anti-Thaksin forces, with a broader agenda. We would have much preferred that a mass movement brought down Thaksin: that is the loss with this coup – a return to the Royal embrace. The conservatives consented to the 1997 constitution under duress; the next struggle will be to keep them at bay.
Panpilai Kitsudsaeng, development worker and PhD student at the ANU:
My sudden reaction to the coup was the relief, that he is gone. However, the coup by the military has put back democracy in our country, way way back. The uprising and bloody October and May was not bringing anything in practice. As long as our people are not politically educated, many ‘Thaksins’ will defintely return. I feel very sad.
Yoshinori Nishizaki, political scientist at the ANU:
The coup came as a surprise. I haven’t gotten enough details on this, but my concern is that outsiders, esp. scholars and journalists whose focus is on Bangkok will facilely take this to mean that the military has ousted an anti-democratic leader or that the whole country is united in opposing Thaksin’s rule. Most scholars and journalists tend to generalize on the basis of what happens in Bangkok alone. Thaksin enjoys a good deal of support in the countryside, for he is the first leader in post-1973 Thailand who has brought concrete, tangible material benefits to the rural populace, esp. farmers. Their support for him has little to do with their low education, traditional cultural values, etc. The whole affair may have less to do with high-sounding Thai “democracy” than with familiar power struggles in high places. The military may have just wanted to put someone who is more congenial or pliant in power.