The word ‘coup d’état’ strikes fear and leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, especially when considered from a Western democratic standpoint. However, for a country that has experienced multiple military coups such as Thailand, the degree of tolerance and immunity may have been on the rise. That is until the recent overthrow of what a mass supporters defined as a democratically elected government of Yingluck that won in a landslide victory back in 2011.
Thailand is known to have undergone several coup d’états, starting as early as 1932. It has now been almost a month that the Thai Royal Armed Forces led by General Prayuth dissolved the Caretaker government, the senate and established a ruling Military Junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). This raises a number of contradictory arguments. As for us, a Farang who have spent parts of his life growing up in the West and in Thailand, and a Thai who spends equally parts of her life in Thailand and overseas, here is how we see it.
Whatever terms General Prayuth may coin, his act received immediate scrutiny from the Western world and their leaders. The West called for an immediate return to democratic rule, threatening the use of sanctions if not. They reacted to the initial strict laws and acts of banned political gatherings, curfew, media censorship, arrested politicians and activists introduced by the NCPO with vengeance. Mainstream foreign media portrayed the power takeover to be unacceptable. Non-democratic!
But for many residents of Thailand, Farangs and Thais alike, they are glad that Thailand could return to some normalcy, although that is a questionable normalcy. The heightening confrontation amongst pro- and anti-government protesters since November last year that ‘shut down’ Bangkok frustrated businesses and the citizens’ daily activities. Military’s intervention was then accepted like an angelic bell for some who saw this action as a dire need to de-escalate unrest that had crippled the city at every corner it turned and to restore at least some sense of stability which the caretaker government was impotent to do.
There is however a trend of domestic and international discourse that this coup is just a repetition of the previous coup in 2006, which ousted Thaksin Shinawatra. They explain it is simply a series of squabbles between elites who do not want their long-held power to be dismantled. Thus, the Thai rurals remain to be suppressed as a byproduct.
For my friend and I, having seen the debates of both worlds, we do not see this coup the same as the one in 2006. Sneaky yes! But also so strategic that brought an end to demonstrations in an instant. It seems this time the Royal Armed Forces learned from past mistake–the same same 2006 coup strategy could not be repeated and hence a new approach was taken. This is sadly what many foreign onlookers have failed to notice.
Now almost a month after the coup, tight restrictions on the public and media censorship has substantially decreased. The curfew has been lifted. General Prayuth made a PR stunt to show the West that his action was not ordinary.
Regardless of how foreign observers may see Thailand’s recent political turmoil, for most parts life in Thailand goes on as usual now, having a great time enjoying the World Cup spectacle like the same same. When there is no better option, it seems that the coups have become a Xavier, an acceptable way of dealing with the political impossible. A norm.
It may be a mockery to Western values. It may turn down foreign investments. That is the same same rhetoric. For how we view it, the recently gained stability has restored the Thai confidence. Proof? The Thai Stock Exchange is increasingly on the rise, the Baht is appreciating and the domestic investment is at an all time high.
The ear sore issue of poor abandoned farmers from the former government’s rice-pledging scheme was sorted. Tourists are returning. So much better some resound why not sooner, a quick fix?
Sure, the coup cannot be a long-term solution. We agree. We love Liu Xiaoping who said that political reform “should be gradual, peaceful, orderly and controllable.” And like Arab Springs too, Thailand is at a new beginning. The next step is now to keep watch if the General will follow through with his promises, and restore true democratic governance that suits the Thais, whatever that may be. Hopefully, the new model will reflect the King’s middle path ideology.
So we will apply, neither West, nor East. Neither democracy, nor socialism, or even a Thaksin cronyism for that matter. The novice may point their fingers to the Arab states and say Thailand risks falling into the same pit. Having seen both worlds, we renounce this talk. Thailand indeed has strong foundations– culture, education, and infrastructure– that will bring it through and above among the soon-to-be AEC partners. Same same coups we say but different this time.
Dr. Deekana Tipchanta and Tilmann Kaiser, Mahidol University International College, Thailand