A view from Bangkok
I’ve been sent the following, which appears to reflect the views of a lot of people in Thailand (or at least among the educated classes in Bangkok), welcoming the coup that displaced PM Thaksin. The author is an academic at Thammasat university, and he is writing a message addressed to foreign students
My own views of Thaksin, whose career I’ve followed reasonably closely, are similar to those of the author – I would have welcomed his removal by constitutional processes. On the other hand, like John Howard, I would have hoped that Thailand, and our region in general, had got past the point where military coups were part of the political process.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs, I hope for a peaceful outcome and a quick return to democracy.
To All Foreign Students
As one of your lecturers here at Thammasat, I would like to help allay any concerns or fears that you might have, as newcomers and foreigners,Â regarding last night’s coup in Thailand.
The country had been deeply divided for almost a year, and you may have seen that many parts of civil society – academics, journalists, health professionals,Â universities – had repeated called upon Prime Minister Thaksin to step down so that allegations of wrongdoing can be properly investigated.Â He had used every means to stifle these legitimate attempts, including the dissolving of Parliament.
The suppression of foreign news channels may have caused some concern, but I would like to assure you that, even though the situation is still uncertain, there is no cause for alarm. Please read the English-language newspapers; news websites can also be accessed. However CNN’s headline on its website last night (“Thailand in chaos after coup”) is absolutely misleading, and such irresponsible journalism may have causedÂ concern among your families back home.
It’s sad to see foreign governments and journalists re-acting to the coup in Thailand in a negative, albeit, predictable way. Words like â€œchaosâ€? and â€œturmoilâ€? are bandied about as if they had a standard set of phrases in their pockets.
It almost seems that â€˜formâ€™ is more important than â€˜substanceâ€™, or that political correctness requires them to regurgitate the same rehearsed phrases. â€¨â€¨Fortunately, people on the streets give a different testimonial, like Australian John Newman who runs Big John’s Backpacker Hostel in Bangkok, who says: “People have been a little bit curious. It doesn’t seem to be stopping anything at the moment. People have been out in bars drinking and taxis have been driving around. Everything is pretty much as normal.”
In my opinion,Â the troubles leading up to the coup are actually a sign of greater political maturity among the Thai people.Â More people are thinking about social issues, about civil society, andÂ making huge sacrifices for what they believe is right. Â We are willing to accept some discomfort, and bear some cost,Â toÂ show that rampant corruption and conflicts of interest in the Thaksin government will not be tolerated.Â
From what foreign journalists are saying,Â IÂ know the situation must beÂ very confusing. Â Â JournalistsÂ talk about previous coups in Thailand, and seem to equate the current situation with those other incidents.Â They say thatÂ coups should be a thing of the past and most of us would agree.Â But the current circumstances are unique.Â We understand thatÂ foreign investment could be jeopardized, but this is the least of our concerns.Â Â This coup is generically quite different from those in the past.Â It is not a self-serving power struggle.Â This coupÂ shouldÂ not be seenÂ as an act of barbarism.Â Â It is intended to bring morality, rectitude, integrity and common decency back into Thai society. Â
The democratic checks andÂ balances had broken down because of money politics on a scale hitherto unknown.Â So-calledÂ independent agencies had been compromised. Â The legislative process has been hi-jacked and theÂ judicial processÂ crippled. Â At no other time in Thailand’s history had laws been made and amended to serve personal interests so blatantly.Â I am certain thatÂ the coup leaders felt that thisÂ really is theÂ last resort, and that all other avenuesÂ for correcting the system had been blocked.
Democracy is not the mere casting of votes; it requires an institutional infrastructureÂ that serves as checks and balances.Â For months people had strained toÂ abide byÂ the rule of law â€“ it was painful. Â People from all walks of lifeÂ had held peaceful demonstration after demonstration, presented huge amounts ofÂ evidence, and demanded explanations that had not been forthcoming.Â Thaksin dissolved Parliament just when the Opposition won a by-election and had enough seats to initiate a censure motion against him.Â He says that the people should decide.Â But there are very specific allegations of wrongdoing.Â Â Right and wrong cannot be decided by popularity.Â There must be due process which has been repeatedly denied the people. It is precisely the belief in the rule of law that has motivated this coup, or at least support for it.
This coup is not like previous coups. Â It is Thailandâ€™s way of sacking a prime minister who has overstepped the bounds of human decency.
Please rest assured that you are in no danger, and you are living the age-old Chinese curse: â€œMay you live in interesting timesâ€?! I firmly believe that the political situation will be quickly resolved.