Here is the Jakarta Post’s editorial of 27 December 2007 (thanks to the Canberra Times for bringing it to my attention). Some refreshing frankness about the state of play in Thailand.
With full endorsement from Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the military ousted its then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup in September 2006. On Sunday, just fifteen months later, a newly established party, the People Power Party (PPP), won 233 of the 480 parliamentary seats. The party used Thaksin’s return to Thailand from exile as its major political platform. The Democrat Party, the main opposition during Thaksin’s five years in power, could only win 165 seats, although it is reportedly endorsed by the military and royal family.
It is a severe slap in the face for the military that, despite all the corruption charges against the multi-billionaire businessman, his likely return to politics has seen voters’ trust in Thaksin remain high. The military said it will accept voters’ wishes. “We have nothing to worry about and will accept it,” Armed Forces Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niumpradit said Tuesday. But learning from the behavior of the Thai coup leaders, including Gen. Sonthi Boonratglin, it is almost definite the military will take all necessary measures — including dirty maneuvers — to prevent PPP from forming a government.
To a very certain extent, the refusal of Myanmar’s junta to accept the win of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990 will be repeated by the Thai junta.
The pro-Thaksin’s party itself still needs the help small parties to form a majority in the government. Thaksin remains a strong magnet for the people, especially peasants in the countryside, because under Thaksin’s governance, economy was booming and rural economy grew rapidly. Systematic campaigns by the military backfired — including an accusation that Thaksin has no respect for the King and he used money to buy votes — because the military-appointed government failed to perform better than Thaksin’s. The military disbanded Thaksin’s party, Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais), froze his assets worth 2 billion dollars, and barred more than 100 Thaksin’s loyalists becoming active in politics for five years.
The King himself is in a difficult position. He clearly endorsed last year’s coup, but as voters demonstrated their confidence to Thaksin, the highly respected King needs to use his wisdom to see the reality. Knowing his deep love for the people and the nation, there is no doubt he will act wisely in anticipating the results of this election.
Thaksin announced his plan to return to Thailand from his exile soon after knowing the election results. Although Thaksin promised he would do his utmost to act as an advisor to PPP, but his return to Thailand is seen by the military establishment as a confrontational approach against the military, and perhaps to certain extent, also to the royalist establishment.
In the last 75 years, Thailand experienced 18 coups. Thaksin’s return to Thailand, even when he is no longer active in politics, can add to the number of coups in that country. It is very unlikely the Thai military is ready to accept Thaksin’s return because it is a major blow for the generals who blamed Thaksin for the country’s rampant corruption. It is a severe blow because nearly 50 percent of voters put their trust in Thaksin more than the military.
Actually, the Thai media also shared the military’s shame, because much of the media, both electronic and print, initially supported the coup. Many of them then have to eat their own words because the behavior of junta anywhere in the world is always to restrict democracy and freedom.
Thaksin should be given a fair chance to defend himself in court against charges of corruption and abuses of power. But the former telecommunication tycoon also has serious implications. And because the new Thai constitution guarantees more power for the military, the generals can do many things to prevent Thaksin’s return at any cost. It is not impossible that Thaksin will bring chaos if he returns home. It is the ordinary people, the majority of the population, who will suffer the most. It is time for Thaksin to show his statesmanship to his nation by avoiding a head-on confrontation with the military.
But the military also should respect the public’s wish. When the Thai generals take harsh and undemocratic actions in their “war” against Thaksin, then they are as brutal as the neighboring Myanmar junta. Amid a strong wind of democratization across the globe, a militaristic approach by the Thai junta will see them become a laughing point.