September 20, 2006

Thai Coup

Military coups are a good thing only under the most rare of circumstances. The events of the last 24 hours in Thailand don't meet that standard by even the most generous assessment.

Thai army leaders deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a longtime ally of President Bush, using tanks and soldiers to seize the capital Tuesday night without firing a shot. The coup was the first in 15 years in a country where many people believed that military seizures of power were a thing of the past.

Thaksin was in New York, attending the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, when soldiers surrounded Government House, his office, at about 10:30 p.m. He declared a state of emergency by telephone, but his announcement, carried on television, was cut off midway and had no discernible effect as army units seized key facilities in a light rain.

Thaksin cancelled a scheduled address to the UN, a move which I am sorry to see. It would have been instructive for him to speak to the body in order to call upon the nations of the world to reject this assault on democratic institution and to refuse recognition to the illegitimate regime which now holds power in Bangkok.

Why the coup?

Thaksin, a former senior police official who built a fortune in the telecommunications industry, has faced street protests for much of the year over allegations of corruption, abuse of power and a bungling response to a Muslim insurgency. Many military officers contended that he was trying to interfere with promotions and postings in the armed forces.

When it comes right down to it, I believe the last reason was probably the most pressing. Someone's son-in-law or protege probably didn't get the promotion or posting that they were expecting, and that may well have touched matters off. After all, civilian control of the military is a must in a free society, but it seems like the Thai army prefers military control of the civilians.

It also appears taht Thailand's king may be backing the coup -- a sign that the Thai monarchy may need to be abolished or restricted. If he was involved, it would be appropriate for King Bhumibol Adulyadej to face the same punishment -- whether prison or execution -- as the leaders of the coup.

Does any of this mean that I think Thaksin was or is a great leader? hardly, for liberty in Thailand has not been strongly supported. However, elections were coming before this coup -- now there will be none, with a military dictatorship taking the place of an admittedly flawed democratic system. The Houston Chonicle put it well today (in an editorial shocking in its timeliness).

Prime Minister Thaksin makes a poor example of elected government. He has endured charges of corruption and abuse of power. He does not recognize freedom of speech or of the press and refuses to resign.

However, the people elected Thaksin and soon will have a chance to replace him, if the army allows. Thailand would be better off with a deeply flawed leader ultimately accountable to the electorate than what it has now: a military dictator who has revoked the constitution.

Indeed, liberty is even more deeply endangered by this coup than by the short-comings of the Thaksin government.

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Comments on Thai Coup

I can understand Thai people or the thai army being so angry about their prime minister.
I think he has gone too far.

Thank you for sharing this story with me !

|| Posted by Marisa loves hairstyles, September 20, 2006 05:16 AM ||

Now I'll concede that the Thai people have plenty to complain about over Thaksin, but they were better off with him than they are without him.  After all, the notion that an unelected, undemocratic institution has the right to remove the rightfully elected government is one that lovers of liberty cannot accept.

I despised Clinton for eight years, but never would I have accepted the legitimacy of his removal by the US military.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 20, 2006 08:12 AM ||

Indeed, liberty is even more deeply endangered by this coup than by the short-comings of the Thaksin government.

Democracy may be (temporarily) endangered by the coup, but liberty?

I'm not so sure. Thaksin's creeping authoritarianism in part prompted the military's reaction, which was not opposed by the populace in any significant way and was supported by the constitutional monarchy. A person could make the case that Thaksin's authoritarianism and his inability to refrain from enriching his family courtesy of his political position were more injurious to liberty.

This does not appear to be a classical strongman military coup, but rather a military coup designed to remove a personally corrupt and politically authoritarian leader. In that sense, it almost served as an impeachment.

One would rather prefer that Thais actually go about impeachment in a more formal constitutional manner, but I don't now that this move endagers liberty or the democratic regime all that much.

The Thai situation is pretty complicated. I don't really expect everyone who just saw yesterday's headlines and hadn't previously given Thailand much thought beyond red curry or green to get it completely, and I'm not defending the coup. But it's a little more complicated than what was presented by the Chronicle. They do get some points for timeliness, though. That's a rarity.

|| Posted by kevin whited, September 20, 2006 01:31 PM ||

Kevin --

Let us assume we are dealing with a relatively benign coup here -- one intended to relieve corruption rather than entrench a dictatorship.  It still establishes/maintains the principle that an unelected and undemocratic institution can overrule the will of the people -- and that it can act contrary to the (small "L") liberal principles that underlie self-government.

What if the people opposed this coup?  Would the officer corps have simply ordered their men back to their barracks?  Or would they have staged a crack-down on dissent?  Furthermore, placing oneself above teh fundamental law that acts as a guarantee of liberty endangers the liberties it protects.  It is part and parcel of an authoritarianism that respects not the basic rights of the citizenry, beginning with their right to self-government.

And tell me, Kevin, would a coup led by Colin Powell or some other respected general during the Clinton years have endangered liberty and democracy in this country?  Would one now, with the president still low in the polls (though rising), endanger something fundamental?  I think we would both agree that it would.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 20, 2006 02:25 PM ||

Just a broad comment: The siteowner's belief that monarchy provides a less qualitiative way of life ,however he defines it, than democracy, is of course a modernist /left  concept.,

|| Posted by Ken Hoop, September 20, 2006 05:17 PM ||

Coming from a neo-Nazi puke like you, I don't feel insulted at all. I'll stand with the classical liberal tradition every time.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 20, 2006 05:53 PM ||
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