“…Anti-coup movement does not help Thailand going through the needed reform period. It only distracts us from moving into the right direction and fixing the root cause of the decades long political crises… Reforms are necessary and Election is a goal, but first, Stop the Violence!”
Anti-Coup movements in Thailand assume the historical legacy and conventional framework of military coups being carried out by ‘power-hungry military officers, seeking to depose existing regimes in order to rule their nations indefinitely’. Under these prevailing attitudes, all military coups constitute the affront to legitimacy and democracy. My situation analysis and field experience in Thailand attempt to challenge this conventional view and its underlying assumptions, hence I argue against the anti-coup movements we see in today’s crises.
Studies have found that although all military coups have anti-democratic features, some coups are distinctly more democracy promoting than others because they respond to popular opposition against authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, overthrow those regimes, and facilitate free and fair elections. Case studies used under the Harvard International Law Journal include the 1960 military coup in Turkey, the 1974 military coup in Portugal, and the 2011 military coup in Egypt. Today I would illustrate and contrast the case of Egypt’s military coup and that of Thailand.
On February 11, 2011, the Egyptian Armed Forces seized power from President Hosni Mubarak in a coup d’e ́tat. The coup was staged in response to determined protests over eighteen days by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanding the ouster of the autocratic and corrupt Mubarak regime and its replacement with democracy. The demonstrations were largely non-ideological and the protestors hailed from all facets of Egyptian society. Women and men, Muslims and Christians, secularists and Islamists, the poor and the wealthy all joined hands in the aptly named al-Tahrir, or Liberation Square, in a call for freedom and democracy after decades of rule by dictators. That call was answered, not by a foreign power, but by the country’s own military, which seized power from Mubarak and assumed control of the government.
On May 20, 2014, the Thai army imposed a martial law in attempt to prevent further loss of civilian deaths. Following six months of street protests that have left the country without a proper functioning government, 28 people killed with 700 injured, the intelligence reports have indicated war weapons would be used to instigate further violence in the country. Two days later, the Thai Army took control of the government in a Coup after a meeting with all rival factions aimed at finding a solution which ended inconclusively with neither side backing down from their entrenched positions and both vowed to continue their rallies.
I argue that today the Thai army has justified their actions. There are two burdens of proof that vindicated the military actions. One is the need for swift and efficient means to secure order and curb violence and two is the need for a legitimated facilitator to move forward the necessary reforms that address the root causes of a decades long political crisis. These problems are the abuses of power by the politicians, the widespread corruptions and the administrative incompetency. There are enough evidences and several court rulings that expose the public to various acts of corruption and abuses of power by Both the pro and anti-Thaksin regime during the past decade. Do not make today’s problem only an Election versus Appointment i.e. democratic vs. non-democratic mode of governing. Do not forget what have been the real issues in the past decades. Violation of human rights, Threats to freedom of expression and media, Limited access to justice, Culture of impunity, by both sides of the conflicts… Everyone agrees that reforms are necessary for this country and election has to be held for a legitimated government. But first we need to stop the violence, and the army is the best one who evidently is more capable than the caretaker government. We all know that Thailand has lived under decades of authoritarian and/or dictatorship since 1932. Fragile democracy status we could not yet get over. It is now time to learn the lessons and realize what is the real call for Freedom and Democracy. What these two terms mean to us are not just about voting but public interest and social responsibility attitudes by every single one of us in the society, as well as the accountability from those who representing us. In Egypt, all facets of Egyptian society initiated the calls for reforms, and Thai army is calling for the same thing from all Thai people.
In Egypt…the Credit for the successful overthrow of the Mubarak regime went in large part to the Egyptian Armed Forces, who refused to fire on the protestors during the demonstrations and stepped in to assume control of the government when Mubarak stubbornly refused to relinquish his stronghold. President Barack Obama heaped praise on the Egyptian military for “serv[ing] patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state” and expressed his confidence that the military would “ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people.”
For Thailand, if praising the army is too much to ask now as there are uncertainties regarding the outcome of the needed reforms and the new constitution. But I think it is not a time to protest against those who work to curb today’s violence in the society. Today we have seen both sides of the arguments; supporting and against the coup. Points of those who opposed the army move are well respected. The real issue is how we should prioritize the concerns from both sides of arguments i.e. Security/stability vs Freedom/human rights. Situation has to be constantly monitor to ensure that there are boundary to the repression and limiting the negative impact under the coup while using this opportunity to advance on the needed country reforms.
Most importantly, to ensure democratic means and legitimacy of the coup, we need to see the meaningful participation and decision-making by a variety of groups in the reform agenda-setting; politicians from all factions, academia, businesses and interest groups, civil society organizations, bureaucrats etc. The army knows they have no capacity to make a successful or sustainable one without the public participation and consent. Although certain human rights and media freedom is repressed at time of the military junta, safety and security is prioritised in order to allow conflict resolution via dialogues and group discussion facilitated by the neutral body. Issues have always been how to create and maintain an atmosphere of ‘trust’ among those at the negotiation table. The army is here to enforce and anchor those trust and commitments to reforms. What the reforms may look like at the end depends on what are presented on the table and who are taking part in the decision-making…
Anti-coup movement does not help Thailand going through the needed transitional and reform period. It only distracts us from moving into the right direction and fixing the root cause of the problems. Brainstorming and executing national reforms is what we should be focusing now that we can enjoy the period of calm and stability provided by the Army. The sooner we complete the reforms or at least the agenda-setting, the sooner there will be the general election and the functioning democracy in Thailand with all the needed elements of Majority-ruled, Minority-respected, and Check-and-Balance system in place.
Chirada Na Suwan (Fang)
 Varol, Ozan O. (2012) ‘The Democratic Coup d’Etat’, Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 53 [Ozan O. Varol is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law.)