Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thailand Update

Just over a week after the Thai coup, my faith in the smooth transition back to some sort of democracy continues to be shaken.

First of all, it is quite clear that no one involved in the coup has much clue what they are doing. They are telling different things about when they will step aside, who will replace them, and what role the military will have. The coup leaders are fighting amongst themselves. The Bangkok middle-class and intellectuals who supported dumping Thaksin are increasingly nervous about the anti-democratic elements within the military. And honestly, if you are supporting a coup against a democratically elected leader, what do you expect? Civil liberties, especially in the rural areas that constituted Thaksin's base, are severely limited. The coup leaders weren't even very competent--they revolted in part against Thaksin's corruption but failed to freeze his assets when they took over. So Thaksin is off scot free with all his cash. It's just not good. The coup leaders have come under increasing criticism--at first the US and other world powers seemed to tolerate the coup but the uncertainty and chaos is really starting to undermine faith in the Thai economy, which of course is what other nations really care about.

The leading candidate to take over seems to be Surayud Chulanot, a general long known for wanting to get the military out of politics. I don't know enough about Thai politics to say too much about what someone with this background taking over means, but he is a general and his commitment to democracy doesn't seem to be all that strong. Others, including the New York Times are saying the Prime Minister position is being offered to former World Bank head Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, which would likely help stabilize world opinion about the safety of the Thai economy.

Buried within this story is an interesting tidbit about how Thaksin's supporters are the descendants of the leftist movements that racked Thailand during the Vietnam War era. While it's hard to imagine a 1970s style Southeast Asian rebellion in 2006, this could mean that Thailand in general is more on edge than people are admitting. I'd like to know more about these connections and will be keeping my eyes open for them.

Meanwhile, the Thai generals have banned go-go dancers from hanging out near the tanks. Important move there.