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Septembre 19th: 4 years after the September 19 coup d'etat

By Jaran Ditapichai

Jaran Ditapichai, former National Human Rights Commissioner of Thailand, have been involved in people movements for democracy and human rights for 40 years. Before 14 Oct 1973, he was one of leading student activist and democratic promoter against military government. After the mass killing of students on October 6, 1976, he joined the revolutionary movement in the country side. During the last 20 years he is a human rights advocate for various local as well as international human right organizations. He was arrested in Myanmar in August 1988, in Thailand on July 2007 and was impeached from the Commission by the junta appointed national legislative assembly on September 2007 for taking part in the protest against the coup.

September 19, 2010 marks the 4th Anniversary of the last coup d’etat in Thailand which led to the socio-political crisis never happened in Thai history. To understand this coup d’etat it need to look at the fact that Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra’s government was one of a kind as Thailand has never seen such a very strong and popular in Thai history. His party the Thai Rak Thai (TRT), came to power in 2001, it was the first time in Thailand’s history to have one political party winning more than 50% of the house, enabling it to set up a strong government. This party won the election partly because of its aggressive election campaign like low cost universal health care, village fund etc. Again, because of the aggressiveness of the TRT, it started to actually manage its policies, thus, infringed the normal bureaucratic domain. It was the first time these bureaucrats were forced to follow instructions and policies initiated by politicians.

Thaksin’s management style as in the long run, will strengthen power of the people. People have been encouraged by Thaksin’s 5 years in power that, under the Democratic society, a citizen can place his or her demand to the government and the civil servants are there to serve the public, not the other way round. If the bureaucrats let Thaksin and the idea he represents persists, the strength of the bureaucratic institutions which used to be the ‘elite’ of the country will be weaken.

However, while Thailand had for the first time, such a strong government, she had a weak opposition party. The fact was that, while the government was very strong, aggressive and powerful, there was no other entity or power to balance the power like opposition party on the legislative side. At this point, after 4 years the NGOs as well as academics who, by nature, oppose strong government, found Dr. Thaksin’s government to be more and more unbearable.

Not only the bureaucrat but the army also hates Thaksin because his government placed priorities on economic development and social welfare over the army’s need for more and more budget. The evidence was clear that military spending was no way near the top of the priority list of Dr.Thaksin’s government. Once there was anti-Thaksin’s movements led by Sondhi Limthongkul, a media tycoon, once business alliance of Thaksin, and turned his main enemy, due to certain unknown conflict of interest. Later Sondhi and other anti-Thaksin groups formed the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD). A group of military then joined with the PAD and organized plot led to the coup to topple Thaksin government. The army waited until the anti-Thaksin’s movement gained their stronghold among intellectuals, monarchists, social workers of non-governmental organization (NGO), petite bourgeois, medias etc… and then stepped in to take over the power. Finally General Sonthi Boonayatkarin, Commander of the land army staged the coup d’etat on September 19th, 2006.

The last coup had the special characters. The first character it was supported by intellectuals, middle class and medias. The second character, the coup was trying to present the new ideology of ‘ethical’ society leading to ‘clean politic’. The third one was that the President of the Privy council took the Junta to appear before the King at mid- night informing about Coup d’etat, in consequence there was a the Royal command to appoint the leader of the coup.

In other side there were immediate anti-coup materials and protest organized by different group of people through out Thailand. For the previous coups, it took a year or several years before any democratic group stood up against the junta, but for this one, less than 24 hours.

The junta promulgated a temporary constitution setting up the Government and National Legislative Assembly claiming to be democratic, but those people represented no one but the junta, the elite and the anti-Thaksin movement. When the constitution was drafted, the junta’s government conducted the constitutional referendum but controlled and intervened by the military on August 19, 2007, and promulgated the 2007 constitution on August 24, 2007. While two months before, the Junta engineered the dissolution of TRT party and disbanded its 111 executives from political activities.

This constitution 2007 is definitely not a people’s version of democracy, but it was drafted to ensure that politicians cannot run the country without the blessing of the bureaucrats, and particularly the military. The main objective is to weaken the power of politicians elected by the people and strengthen the power the bureaucrats. Thailand will thus turn into an aristocrat dominated country and not a true democracy. It will take so many years to undo the damage to the principle of rule of law.

On December 23, 2007 the general election took place. It was neither free nor fair and one of the most corrupted and fraud election with interventions from the junta apparatus and their supporting elites and groups especially in some provinces that remained then under martial law. Beside, the new National Election Committee (NEC) was appointed by the undemocratic junta. But the results of the general election came out with the big victory of People Power Party(PPP), the rebirth of TRT, Samak Sunthornvet, a veteran politician, former deputy prime minister and minister of several cabinets, was its leader. It gained 233 seats from 480 seats of the House of Representative. But the PPP could not easily form the government because the anti-Thaksin movements led by the People Alliance of Democracy (PAD) and the opposition party including the majority of media tried to obstruct this party from forming government. They complained to NEC of the vote buying of the PPP.

After 3 months of Smark government, all opponents began to accuse Samak government of being Thaksin’s puppet, of abuse of power, of establishing a police state. At the end of May PAD has been rallying their people to protest against the constitution amendment agenda and attack Foreign minister for supporting Cambodia to register Preah Vihear temple as a world heritage site in disputed border. The last issue is a nationalist campaign which induced the vast allies for PAD.

Two weeks later they demanded the ouster of Samak government. The demonstrations against the government were still on the street near the prime minister office. In the parliament PAD’s allies the Democrat party and the appointed senators, proposed the motion of no-confidence debate at the end of June.

Obviously, the various courts, Administrative, Constitutional and Justice who received the cases by the anti-Thaksin movements to disqualify the Prime minister, Ministers and members of the House of representative of wrong doing or unconstitutionality played a major role. The courts ‘decisions in July disqualified 1 minister and 2 ministers resigned. It is also the National Election Committee continuously punished the MP of the PPP for election frauds.

At last on August 26 the PAD besieged many government buildings in the city, including the National Broadcasting of Thailand (NBT) and the Government House, where the cabinet meets. In the parliament PAD’s allies with the Democrat party and the appointed senators, proposed the motion of no-confidence debate several times… More seriously PAD has called military to stage another coup and proposed a less democracies, political platform decreasing number of elected seats in Parliament.

There was a clashes between police and PAD protesters on August 29, the PAD effectively closed international airports in the southern provinces and imposed work stoppages on train service across the country. Violence escalated when the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) engaged in street fighting with heavily armed members of the PAD on the morning of September 2, resulting in one death and more than 40 injured. On October 7, PAD surrounded Parliament, protesters cut electricity and water supplies and parliamentary staff were stuck inside for more than five hours. This dispersion of the protesters had caused 2 deaths and more than 400 injured.

At the same time, the courts and the National Election Committee continuously punished several l MPs of the PPP and of the 2 government parties who were Parties’ committee members for election frauds, which carried a penalty of dissolving the parties. The process was still going on, September 9th, the Constitutional court disqualified Smark from the Prime minister post for his cooking show on TV. The PPP subsequently sent Mr.Somchai Wongswasdi to the Prime Minister chair. Again the PAD declared to oust the new PM while some senators have petitioned to the Constitutional Court to disqualify him. At the same time the cases of dissolution of the political parties were taken in to considering of the Constitutional court.

It was some kind of judicial coup d’etat which is different from the “Coup d’etat” as “the sudden overthrow of a government and seizure of political power” or “a sudden and decisive measure in politics, especially one effecting a change of government illegally or by force” The ongoing attempt to seize political power in Thailand by the third power, probably those untouchable are: the Judicial, may fall out of the radar. The 2551 Constitution which was manipulated by a clique of “people in high places” is a design for judicial participation, providing a power element for destability of government. On December 2, 2008 the Constitutional court dissolved the PPP while the PAD closed Suwanaphume airport. Somchai government was fallen. The Democrat party backed by the Army and the renegade MP of the PPP come to power Abhisit Vejjaji Va is Prime minister. His government is an aristocratic Dictatorship. The practices of double standard of all national institutions whatever the Government, the Parliament, Judiciary, Army including human rights advocates between the Yellow and the Red was daily seen.

Whatever the tendency, judicial or military coup d’etat, it is being faced with the growing of the democratic force called the” red power” (people wearing red t-shirt). On November 1st, these people almost 100,000 persons went to the “Truth Today” (TV program) rally. 5 months later the Red shirts become the biggest people movement in Thailand. Immediately the Red shirt declared not to accept the new government. It regard the current government as illegitimate after it was installed last December following riots by yellow-shirted royalists who shut down the country’s two airports and occupied Government House for 3 month. Notably the Democrat party had united with the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to oust their 3 elected governments during the last 3 years. The Red shirts had rallied people to protest and finally to oust the Abhisit government. Almost every time of the Red shirts demonstrations, Abhisit government implemented an Internal Security Act (ISA) and finished by the Emergency decree. It deployed average twenty thousands of police and soldiers. It violated human rights of Thai people such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly by closing TV, community radios, journals and websites. In one year Abhisit government had violently suppressed the Red shirts which caused many deaths and injured. Last time during the demonstration of March-May, 2010 where there were 91 deaths and almost 2000 injured 400 arrested.

Even though the Red shirts protests were brought under control, and peace was restored to Bangkok, serious questions remain about Thailand’s political future. The red shirts see Abhisit political regime more aristocratic dictatorship. At the same time many of them ended the sentiment for democratic reform. They want to make revolution and will fight with every means.

In conclusion, the coup d’etat of September 19, 2010 brought Thailand back 50 years. Firstly it did not only stop the democratization which went rather well than the other periods during the 74 years of the attempt of Democracy in Thailand, but also multiplied the exiting political crisis. .Secondly it provided the Army to return in to politics again. The present government in reality is a civil -military one. Lastly, the coup widened and deepened the division of Thai society in to Yellow and Red. Until now this division is every where and every organizations and communities including families which never happened in Thailand.

The last point I would like to remind that since the Democratic revolution 1932 which ended the absolute Monarchy to the present there are 10 success coup d’etat. The existing political crisis is always a favourable condition for coup d’etat. Face with the return of the Red shirt movement, the military would make a coup at any time. Anti- coup should be one of the strategies of the people who love freedom and Democracy. And I would like to demand international communities to pay attention to the political situation in Thailand.

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