Saturday, May 10, 2008

The smell of a coup is in the air


THE gut feeling of a Thai journalist who covers the military beat is that a coup is in the offing.

“You might think it is nonsense. But I can smell a coup,” says Wassana Nanuam, a Bangkok Post journalist who recently published a Thai-language book on the 2006 coup called Lab Luang Prang (Secrets, Deceptions and Disguise).

“When you cover closely the key men (who are essential to stage a coup), you can see in their eyes, words and behaviour that they are thinking seriously of staging a coup,” explains the 39-year-old author in an interview on Tuesday at the army headquarters in Bangkok.

Coincidentally, that morning, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej visited the army headquarters, giving rise to speculation that his visit had something to do with a coup.

Certain quarters speculate that the recent military drills conducted at night in Bangkok had spooked Samak into thinking that the Thai Royal Army was preparing to bring down his three-month-old government. The next day, government spokesman Vichienchote Sukchotirat told reporters: “The rumours came from those who oppose the government. We have just worked for three months, and rumours about this keep flooding in. But the truth is that no coup will be staged.”

In past Thai coups (18 since 1932, the year Thailand changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy), Wassana notes, the army chief and the commander of the First Army Region played crucial roles.

“The army chief because he is the commander-in-chief, and the commander of the First Army Region because he controls troops based in Bangkok,” explains the journalist who also authored a book on the 1991 coup.

“The First Army Region is called the coup unit as it has (soldiers and tanks to take over the Thai capital).”

In her latest book, the then army chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin revealed that only he and Gen Anupong Paojinda, then commander of the First Army Region and now army chief, plotted the coup which ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Sept 19, 2006.

The current First Army Region chief is Lt-Gen Prayuth Janocha, who was among key officers behind the bloodless 2006 coup. On Wednesday, Prayuth insisted that it was improper for government critics to call for a coup to end the country’s political crises.

However, he warned that with severe conflict, lack of unity and lack of loyalty to the monarchy, Thailand might once again reach a point where a coup was inevitable.

“If it’s going to happen, it will happen. It depends on events at the time. What has to be considered is how to prevent it from happening,” he was quoted as saying in The Nation.

Wassana, who covered Prayuth’s press conference, believes the commander is serious in stating that it is the military’s duty to protect the monarchy’s honour (especially against moves that were in contempt of the royal family).

She adds that Anupong and Prayuth have a close brotherly relationship, are of one mind and are loyal to the royal family.

“Many people think that Anupong is loyal to Samak. But there are those who think that he is doing what Sonthi did to Thaksin,” she reveals.

Despite warnings of a coup, the then prime minister did not believe that his army commander would betray him. Thaksin assumed Sonthi owed a debt of gratitude to him for his army chief appointment.

“It was Sonthi’s military tactic to pretend that he was loyal to Thaksin,” explains the author. Thus, Secrets, Deceptions and Disguise.

On her belief the military may launch a coup, Wassana lists several reasons: Thaksin may intervene in the military reshuffle in September, Samak plans to amend the military-drafted constitution, and moves by certain groups to drag the monarchy into politics.

The pretext for the next coup will be different from that in 2006. The Sept 19 coup, according to Sonthi, was necessary to prevent violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Thaksin.

“This time a situation will be created to increase tension between pro- and anti-Thaksin forces,” Wassana predicts.

“The military will not intervene when the mobs clash violently, but will use the bloodshed as a pretext to launch a coup.”

Her gut feeling tells her a coup may happen around July or August.

(Published in The Star on May 10, 2008. Photograph courtesy of The Nation)


ThaiCrisis said...

I share this "feeling".

I've changed. After the disaster of the Junta and the Surayud gvt, I was thinking : hopefully ridicule doesn't kill... the generals and their obsessions are outdated. A new coup won't happen. We're free. At last. ;-)

And then... the reality of the ground came back... hard.

Think about the thai generals like... their burmese counterparts.

We all know that military and smart are 2 really different words...

But here, in Asia, this truth can become even more uggly.

Yes the thai hard core general, nationalists and zealot monarchists, in their tight uniforms would risk any thing to pursue their obsessions.

Add to this, the fact that we are... waiting for the king's succession... And we get an amazing conundrum.

So, I think that the thai generals are capable to stage a new coup.

Eventhough the risk of a "philipinization" of Thailand has never been so great...

The future of Thailand is gloomy.

Observer said...

The risk of another coup seems, in my view, extremely small.

First of all, the earlier coup clearly failed. There must be little or no public tolerance for another one.

Second, Anuphong is sitting pretty. He seems to be the big military winner of the post-coup arrangement. He will be in charge of the army through 2010, which must be very lucrative. Why would he trade that for riding the tiger ala Sonthi B?

Finally, it seems to me that a deal has been made with the PPP not pursuing any charges against the uniformed mafia for their many blantant crimes during their brief rule. Unless that line is crossed, i expect that the military will not do anything stupid. And another coup would be moronic.

I wouldn't pay too much attention to the rantings of Thai journalists, although Wassana seems fairly balanced, let alone their "gut feelings". I can see it in their eyes is a pretty weak basis for a conclusion.

The military's only weapon at this point is the threat of a coup, not an actual coup. They may talk tough, but even they can't possibly think another coup is going to end up better than the last one.