Coup leader must kick-start an inclusive reform process and provide a timeframe for the return to democracy
Our latest military coup – or “power seizure” as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) prefers – took place less than eight years after the previous one on September 19, 2006. Both times the coup-makers cited the need to prevent further political violence and bloodshed as a major reason for their intervention.
The military is now viewed by many as “referee” and the only hope we have of putting a stop to months of political warring between the ruling Pheu Thai Party and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
For many observers, the coup was a “necessary evil” to combat rampant abuse of power by the ruling politicians, who turned the electoral mandate to their personal benefit. A large sector of the public has welcomed the power seizure in the hope that it will bring an end to violence and eventually see corrupt politicians punished.
The military did not stage the coup out of the blue. It waited until it was clear that the deadly violence would continue unabated and that those in power would do little to stop it. The take-over is certainly a violation of democratic principles, causing dismay among the international community, but so far it has met with only limited resistance in Thailand.
Meanwhile, the take-over has halted the violence, which had mostly targeted those protesting against the government. Arrests have been made and war weapons seized in raids that have unearthed suspects found to have connections with politicians. Many of those arrested are being described as red shirts, including two suspected of carrying out the attack on a PDRC protest site in Trat in early February that left two children dead and more than 20 people injured.
Army and NCPO chief Prayuth Chan-ocha maintains that the military took power in the national interest rather than to benefit one side or the other. The junta’s actions so far have supported his words, with measures taken to tackle problems that are the legacy of the ousted caretaker government and the political deadlock. These include making payments to rice farmers owed some Bt100 billion under the previous administration’s loss-making and corruption-plagued price-pledging scheme.
But there are other issues that it must urgently consider, including restoring freedom of speech and providing a timeframe for the return to democracy. The junta chief has not made clear who will become the next prime minister or when the next election will be held. Even more important is the need for a reform process that includes all the warring parties. The military must recognise that, without such an inclusive process, sustainable results that satisfy disaffected factions and ensure lasting peace will not be possible.
Judging from his recent moves, General Prayuth appears to be avoiding mistakes committed by previous coup leaders. Hopefully he will not be lured by the sweet scent of power, a temptation to which many of his predecessors succumbed. He must assure the public that the troops will return to their barracks after completing their house-sweeping mission and hand over the power to an elected