We need to make this the last military takeover

opinion June 15, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Whether Thailand has endured a coup or not, the junta must remember that it will be judged on its actions

Colonel Werachon Sukhondha-patipak, a spokesman for the ruling military junta, appeared before the foreign media at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand last week and tried hard to represent the junta’s friendly face. 
Speaking at a packed house, Werachon repeated the same thing that every coup plotter in the history of modern Thailand has said: “We are not destroying democracy. We are strengthening democracy.”
Never mind the fact that the Army is a stakeholder and almost the exact same thing was said in 2006 by the then coup plotters in justification for ousting the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, a scam artist and a sore loser who had dug his own grave when he couldn’t realise enough was enough. 
Werachon had the audacity to ask for sympathy, and bit off more than he could chew when he asked the press not to call the ousting of the Yingluck government a coup. 
And the people detained and questioned, well, don’t call them detainees – they were guests of the Army, he said.
He said that the military leader had a brief meeting with Yingluck, the former prime minister, followed by a nice lunch, and then off she went on her merry way. But then again, not everybody got the same red carpet treatment, did they?
But the treatment of critics of the coup or political opponents is not the main issue. It is about the future of Thailand and the military’s plan to steer the country out of this storm.  
The junta was right to say Thai people have to learn from their mistakes or be doomed to repeat them. But the prescription the junta is offering is somewhat disturbing. It’s a very textbook, old school style. 
They don’t seem to understand that the world, and Thailand for that matter, has moved on. Thailand is not North Korea, where just about every bit of information is filtered through state apparatus. There are enough people here who can think for themselves and they will call a spade a spade.
What the international community does or says matters. 
The coup in Egypt came with more than 3,000 dead but the US wouldn’t call it a coup for fear that the legislative mechanism from the Congress would kick in. The Americans were also concerned about losing a strategic partner. 
The fact that Washington had no qualms about calling the coup in Thailand a coup shows how little regard the US has for Thailand and the Thai military.
No matter how hard the junta work on their charm offensive, in the final analysis it is the actions that the junta takes that will define it and perhaps redeem it. 
Perhaps Werachon was right. This was not just a coup. In the context of Thailand’s modern history, one can also argued that this was the mother of all coups. And if it goes accordingly – if reform is done correctly – it should be the coup to end all coups.
But something tells us that Thaksin and his cronies will probably continue to use the loophole in democracy, again, to get his people back into power like he did after the 2006 coup. And if the Thaksin camp ever returns to power, the country’s top brass can forget about seeing the light of day. 
But rescuing Thailand should not be a zero-sum game – a tit-for-tat between the military and the Thaksin camp. It’s about the interests of all Thais, regardless of their political affiliation. The only way out for the military, it seems, is to push through meaningful reform so that a coup will never have to be employed again. 
The military can play a constructive role by helping establish an equilibrium for all sides of the political divide and set the ground rules to even out the playing field. Or the military can fool itself into thinking it and it alone can make this transitional period smooth sailing.