Saturday, September 15, 2007

The unfinished coup


HERE'S the report card for the coup makers who ousted former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

C-minus, according to aajaan (Thai for teacher) Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

“Overall, I don’t give it a high grade. But it (the coup) is not a complete failure. Because to have a complete failure means that there would have been violence, sinking economy and military dictatorship.”

“If we had to issue a report card on the one year after the coup,” says Thitinan, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, “we could base it on the coup makers’ justifications for their action.”

On Sept 20, a day after army tanks rolled into Bangkok to seize control of the nation from Thaksin, who was in New York to address the United Nations, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin cited four justifications for the military’s seizure of power.

Coup leader Gen Sonthi listed: social polarisation (Thaksin caused division in Thailand), Thaksin usurped the bureaucracy, Thaksin insulted the monarchy and Thaksin’s corruption.

In an interview a week before first anniversary of the Sept 19 coup, aajaan Thitinan graded the Council of National Security (or CNS as the military junta calls itself) on its performance on the four justifications.

“Now have we reconciled this social division? No, we have not,” he declares. The academician says the result of the Aug 19 national referendum on the army-backed draft Constitution (which 42% of the voters disapproved) reveals that Thailand was still a divided country.

As for the junta’s allegation that Thaksin usurped the bureaucracy (using it to carry out his policies and transferring or demoting bureaucrats who opposed him), Thitinan says the CNS and the government were also using the bureaucrats to carry out their agenda.

On the issue that Thaksin had insulted the King, the political scientist says “it was something they (CNS) cited without substantiating.”

On April 11, public prosecutors dropped charges of lese majeste (a French expression which means ‘insulting the monarchy’) against Thaksin as they lacked solid evidence to prove malicious intent against the King.

It is only on the corruption charge that the military junta had made significant headway.

“They have prosecuted Thaksin (for example, prosecutors claim Thaksin used his position to convince the central bank to sell his wife, Pojaman, a plot of prime Bangkok real estate for the bargain price of 772 million baht (RM83.4mil), a third its estimated value and more than 60 billion baht (RM6.4bil) of Thaksin’s assets have been frozen,’ he noted.

He added “the Thai legal system has been twisted and manipulated in order to prosecute Thaksin to a point where the judiciary has been compromised.”

Despite the military junta’s prosecution of the former Prime Minister to the point of persecution, Thitinan says the Thaksin phenomenon is still alive, however.

“They’ve got rid of him. He is on self-exile. His party (Thai Rak Thai) has been disbanded. And 111 TRT officials including Thaksin are barred from politics for five years. There’s an arrest warrant for him and his wife. But Thaksin is not finished,’ he said.

The latest evidence of the billionaire’s popularity comes from the results of the referendum, Thitinan noted.

“The 42% who voted against the Constitution are concentrated in the north and northeast. And the people from these two regions, which constitute about half of the Thai electorate, are still supportive of Thaksin because of his populist policies (cheap health care, micro credit scheme, free scholarship to study overseas),’ he explained.

Asked why the military junta could not finish off Thaksin, politically, the aajaan says, “The (junta) is aiming at a moving target.

“Thaksin is out of Thailand. But he is still in the news everyday. How do you finish Thaksin?,’ he said with a grin, adding ‘this is an unfinished coup.’

Thitinan does not rule out another coup in the next two or three years. And he tosses out a handful of factors:

The formation of an unstable government after the Dec 23 election, the military remaining in politics, the King is aging (the successor to 80-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is still unclear), disgruntled elements in the military and Thaksin lurking in the shadows.

(Published in The Star on Sept 15, 2007)