At first sight, the most recent coup d’état on 22 May 2014 seemed to have learned admirably well from the failures of the previous coup in 2006. But what have and what haven’t the military leaders learned from the 2006 coup? Here are some observations.
1. The martial law was declared two days in advance of the actual seizure of state power. The Senate was allowed to linger on for a brief while and was subsequently dissolved. Power was seized and monopolized by one leader. Royal endorsement only came on 26 May at a ceremony in which the king was not present. The president of the Privy Council didn’t seem to play any role in this process too. And the junta leaders didn’t have an audience with the king. These measures were taken to show that there wasn’t any connection between the monarchy and the coup; the military alone was responsible for it. Whether or not this is plausible is entirely a different matter.
2. This time the coup group, officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), didn’t appoint a prime minister to govern on their behalf. The junta has moved swiftly to undermine or destroy Thaksin Shinawatra’s power-base by transferring to inactive posts the Ministry of Defense permanent secretary and the National Police Chief—along with a number of senior police officers and provincial governors who are said to be connected to Thaksin. We will have to see whether or not the military junta will be successful in eradicating Thaksin and Co.’s political power this time; the 2006 coup failed dismally in this feat.
3. The junta’s appointment of MR Pridiyathorn Devakula and Somkid Jatusipitak as advisors to handle economic and foreign affairs matters respectively is interesting. Both men belong to the opposite poles. They are however honest and highly competent. It will be interesting to see if they can work together and whether or not NCPO listens to their advices. Professor Yongyut Yuttawong is also capable and upholds a strong sense of ethics. Ultimately, how many more qualified technocrats will be enlisted to work for NCPO—aside from the legal experts who have served under every recent military dictatorship?
4. We have to wait and see whether or not the new set of administrators will courageously work to dismantle structural injustice and to what extent they understand the sources of poverty, oppression and exploitation faced by the majority of people in the country. Moreover, will they continue to denigrate local knowledge forms as well as autonomy? Will they attempt to move beyond the populist and corrupt policies of Thaksin and Yingluck?
NCPO’s plans to construct roads and dams around Bangkok may prove as disastrous as Yingluck’s approval of a massive budget for dam construction in the name of flood relief. Is it far-fetched to demand that NCPO call for a referendum before launching any massive construction projects?
5.The creation of the Military Court is a double-edged dagger. If the objective is to improve the justice process in the country, then it must be accompanied by the nourishment of mindfulness, emancipatory knowledge, and tolerance—and not to say of a major overhaul of the education and Sangha systems. I’m afraid these issues are not on the priority list of NCPO.
6. Summoning individuals to report to the junta or detaining them seems to have spiraled out of control. It may lead to a culture of misinforming and denouncing innocent persons, a kind of McCarthyism. The sooner this path is avoided, the better. (The suspension of US military aid to Thailand is simply a weak PR ploy. The US has always had deep ties with every postwar military dictatorship in the country.)
7.As shocking as this may sound but the present military leaders should look to Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat as a role model. Despite his terrifying flaws Sarit was also pretty clever. Sarit’s closest confidant as well as advisor was very talented. The Field Marshal was able to make highly competent individuals work for the wellbeing of the country such as Puey Ungphakorn in the domain of finance and economics and Tawee Boonyaket in the field of constitutional drafting.
8. NCPO won some praise as it disbursed payment to rice farmers under the rice pledging scheme of the previous government. But in the wake of the 1947 coup in an effort to reduce public dissent, the price of certain essential commodities was also cut. The 1947 coup-makers justified their action under the pretext of fighting corruption. Arguably, they ended up being even more corrupt than the deposed government.
9. Hopefully, the drafting of a new constitution and formation of a civilian government will not take an inordinate amount of time as during the Sarit years. Likewise, let’s hope that oppositional intellectuals and politicians will not be liquidated as during the Sarit dictatorship.
10. The Sangha Act of 1962 issued by Sarit is a root cause of the Sangha’s downfall in the country. If this Act is not amended or revoked, the future of Buddhism looks bleak in the kingdom.
Perhaps, the leader of NCPO should take the time to study the life of Pompey, a great military-general-turned-politi
“Life out of uniform can have the dangerous effect of weakening the reputation of famous generals…. They are poorly adapted to the equality of democratic politics. Such men claim the same precedence in civilian life that they enjoy on the battlefield…. So when people find a man with a brilliant military record playing an active part in public life they undermine and humiliate him. But if he renounces and withdraws from politics, they maintain his reputation and ability and no longer envy him.” Anthony Everitt adds that “The trouble was that Pompey was a poor political tactician and also uninspiring public speaker.”
I am aware that the leader of NCPO doesn’t have the time to read this article. But if his trustworthy and clever subordinates alert him to the message in this postscript it may be beneficial to the present situation.
The English name of คสช is National Council for Peace and Order. Its Latin equivalent would be “otium cum dignitate.” That is, peace/leisure (otium) is inextricable from dignity (dignitate). If human rights are trammeled on and freedom of expression is denied, then an order is peaceful only in name. It will be a false peace.