Sep 21, 2006

Coup Of Compassion

As per usual, the coup in Thailand is about restoring democracy. That's what the army claims at any rate: Thaksin Shinawatra is accused of making incursions into the country's democratic structures and so the army, with their long and distinguished concern for the people, have overthrown a government that won two landslide election victories, the first time in 2001 in the most open, corruption free election in Thai history.

That election was fought under the 1997 People's Constitution, the result of massive public uprisings against the provisional constitution imposed by a military coup in 1991, which urged that the Senate would be appointed by the military (the National Peace Keeping Council, they called themselves), who would in turn override the elected Congress, and that non-elected officials could be made cabinet ministers (so that an acting military leader might become Premier). That coup administration was brought down by huge revolts in 1992, and a subsequent prolonged fight between the workers and peasants, and the army and rich opened up. The 1997 constitution was a classically liberal one, with all sorts of human Trights guaranteed, proportional representation introduced, the executive branch strengthened (more in guard against the subventions of political supporters of the military than anything else), and an electoral commission established.

The government pursued a 'populist' programme of redistributing wealth to the poor by providing universal health care, debt relief for farmers, and development funds for villages. Poverty was massively reduced right across the country, and the economy recovered considerably from the 1997 crash thanks to this Keynesian demand-management.

However, let's not go nuts with admiration: it was a pragmatic concession to workers and rural poor. The government also implemented an extremely harsh drugs policy, continued to privatise the energy sector, and continued the nepotistic policies that have marked previous governments.

The repression of the insurgency in the south of Thailand by Malay Muslim groups was every bit as brutal as before, including a notorious massacre at Tai Bak where the army responded to a local protest by shooting at the crowd. However, eventually the government stopped screaming that the insurgency was all Al Qaeda's doing and actually started to try to meet some of the demands through negotiation. The National Reconciliation Commission was set up, and it recommended establishing autonomous 'Islamic' law for the region, allowing Malay-Patani to be the official language, and setting up an unarmed 'peacekeeping' force for the region. The government promised to implement these, but the King's Privy Council opposed the policies vehemently.

This coup has established a military government loyal to the King in advance of the coming elections for the House of Representatives. The 1997 constitution has been quoshed, and reforms such as healthcare, opposed by the medical elite, will likely to be overturned if they can get away with it. The Malays in the Patani province will get no autonomy, and you can look forward to more brutal repression there.

The US no longer needs Thailand as much as it did during the Cold War and was therefore unwilling to bail out the country during and after the 1997 crisis. However, they had been banking on a 'free trade' agreement with the regime, and are now hoping that when the military 'restores democracy', it can be resuscitated. The military indicates that it will return to a democracy 'loyal to the King', but the King happens to be bearer of power that has been revived, supplied and protected by the US government for fifty years. I think that 'free trade' agreement will go ahead in short order.

The big concern on the news this morning is what will happen to Thailand's tourist industry.
-An Excerpt Of A Post At Thoroughly Unsexy L

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