The opposing political parties in Thailand were locked in pitched street battle.
Thai army Chief General Sonthi declared on 28 February 2006, “There is nobody who wants to stage a coup. I can assure that the military will not.”
He reiterated on 6 March 2006, that “The army will not get involved in the political conflict. Political troubles should be resolved by politicians. Military coups are a thing of the past.”
Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party announced election which was boycotted by the agitating opposition. In the backdrop of the bitter fight between two political groups and uncertainty over election, despite all the previous statements, Thai Army under the leadership of General Sonthi stages a coup.
After the coup, on 20 September 2006 General Sonthi brags,
“Nobody was behind us. We decided on our own, and we took care of it on our own … because the people have called for it and also because of the mismanagement of the government.”
The junta, however promises, “The Council’s intervention has no other aim than to strengthen democracy through democratic reforms, including the holding of generally-accepted free and fair elections.”
The reasons given for the coup also included:
• Drastic increase in disunity among the Thai people
• Signs of rampant corruption, malfeasance and widespread nepotism
• Interference in national independent agencies, crippling their ability to function properly and to effectively solve the nation’s problems
• Deterioration of social justice
The junta pledged to appoint a civilian government, step aside, reinstate human rights, and hold elections within a year.
Retired General Surayud Chulanont was appointed as the Premier. The ruling junta initially named itself the Council of Democratic Reforms (CDR) and later changed its name to the Council for National Security.
To institutionalize its power, they prepared a draft interim constitution.
Structurally, the draft interim charter sets up an extremely powerful executive branch which would appoint the entire legislature. The Council for National Security (CNS), would appoint the head of the executive branch, the entire legislature, and the drafters of a permanent constitution. The interim constitution also has the following major changes,
- The military authority (CNS) would appoint the Prime Minister and would sit in Cabinet meetings
- The junta would appoint the entire legislature.
Ban on political gatherings is lifted with the catch that gatherings only for constructive debate would be allowed.
Election date was moved back by 17 months.
During this added time the government continued to spend the government resources, money and time in character assassination of the deposed Premier Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra. CNS leader Sonthi approved a 12 million baht top-secret budget for a public relations campaign to discredit Thaksin Shinawatra. Chianchuang Kalayanamitr, younger brother of CNS Deputy Secretary-General Saprang Kalayanamitr, was hired as head of the publicity team.
Government appointed advisors from the civil society technocrats. Prominent among them were,
- Economic/ Finance ministry was Headed by Bank of Thailand Governor
- Foreign affairs. Headed by former Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry Vitaya Vejjajiva.
An Assets Examination Committee was established to investigate corruption allegations against the politicians. The National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) was ordered to rush its investigation into corruption allegations involving politicians.
The Commission members were appointed by the military rulers and consisted of several vocal critics of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
A separate decree gave the NCCC the authority to freeze the assets of politicians who failed to report their financial status by a deadline or intentionally reported false information.
Another decree increased the penalty for political party executives whose parties had been ordered dissolved, from simply banning them from forming or becoming executives of a new party, to stripping them of their electoral rights for five years.
Some top politicians from the deposed government party TRT and other parties were hired as part of the CNS campaign to promote new constitution and a new party. Some famous academics were also hired.
As the military junta slowly consolidated its power in all sectors, Sonthi moved away from earlier promises not to cling to power.
In a television interview on 25 June 2007 he hinted at plans to enter politics after he retires as Army chief in September 2007, not denying a suggestion that a new political party might be created for him. The very next day, a group of allies and anti-Thaksin politicians launched Ruam Jai Thai (Thai Unity), a new party that “would not be unfriendly to the military”, as one put it.
Sources claimed that military leader Gen Sonthi was planning to run for Parliament in the next election, representing his constitution Lopburi. Sonthi’s advisor and director of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) was charged with building a support base for Gen Sonthi in Lopburi. ISOC staff were also sent to Northern and Northeastern provinces, political strongholds of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party, to persuade local politicians to defect from Thai Rak Thai and join political parties backed by the military.
The Asian Human Rights Commission issued a scathing critique of the army and its democracy roadmap, saying it bore ominous similarities to Myanmar, or Burma, whose putative new charter is widely dismissed as a smokescreen to keep the junta in power. “Although the regime in Thailand has been at pains throughout to deny comparisons being made between it and its counterpart in neighbouring Burma, it is increasingly difficult to avoid them,” the Hong Kong-based group said. It urged Thais to reject what it called a “bogus” document. The coup leaders also stated that the result of the referendum will also decide when exactly the general election, tentatively scheduled for December, will be held, .
A referendum was declared to change the constitution to the above described charter. “There is no country on earth that holds a referendum on something and penalises those who campaign against it,” former Thai Rak Thai spokesman said.
And August 19 2007, the referendum was held. The Economists reported it this way,
THAILAND’S army chiefs seem to have overestimated their popularity, as military dictators often do. They staged a massive propaganda effort to get people to turn out and vote in August 19th’s referendum—the country’s first ever—and to say yes to a new constitution written by a military-appointed panel. Yet the turnout was a tepid 58%. And though the constitution was approved, the yes vote was just 57%. Some of those voting yes will have done so only because the passing of the constitution paves the way for elections, promised for December. They were voting to hasten the end of the military dictatorship, not to express support for it.
And a few days later, the Economist again publish this follow up report,
FROM Pakistan to Fiji, from Bangladesh to Thailand, the men in green are finding what they should have known all along: that it is far easier for soldiers to topple an elected government than to manage their own exit from the front of the political stage. Many generals, however, never learn that lesson. What is surprising in Thailand, which on August 19th held a referendum designed to smooth their exit (see article), is that so many of the country’s elite cheered them on when they staged their coup a year ago. Critics of the coup—such as this newspaper—were denounced for misunderstanding both the depth of the evil of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister they deposed, and the wonders of Thailand itself.
The army may have doomed Thailand to further cycles of constitution, crisis and coup. The next flashpoint may not be far off. Hundreds of Mr Thaksin’s former MPs have regrouped under the banner of the People’s Power Party (PPP). Since Mr Thaksin and his populist policies retain wide support, the PPP may enter the election campaign as front-runner. But the generals will surely do their damnedest to thwart a Thaksinite restoration. If they fight dirty, the relatively small anti-junta protests seen so far could quickly swell. The road back to the barracks is, as ever, strewn with hazards.
[This specific post is an attempt to aggregate news and opinions published in different sources and compiled in wikipedia with an intention to show a trend and draw a parallel with situations in Bangladesh. The blogger intentionally and very carefully avoided putting his own thoughts in this post.]