Last night the military staged a coup against the elected, but controversial, government of Thaksin Shinawatra. In the tradition of all Thai military coups for the last 60 years, the dictatorship claimed to have staged the coup in order to “reform politics” and “protect democracy”. They said they had “no interest in taking personal power” and would be “returning power to the people as soon as possible”. And in the tradition of many previous coups they later sought and received support from the monarchy.
The military have taken over all Thai TV channels and have blocked foreign news channels such as CNN and BBC. The TV is showing pictures of the royal family along with various declarations from the so-called “democratic reform committee”.
The Thai peoples’ movement had good reason to oppose the Thaksin government which presided over gross human rights abuses in the south and in the so-called war on drugs and pushed for many neo-liberal policies, such as privatisation and free trade agreements. Yet the Thaksin government retained huge popularity among the poor. On 2 April this year 16 million people voted for the government, as opposed to 10 million who voted against.
The reason was simple. The Thai Rak Thai government of Thaksin had initiated many pro-poor policies, including a universal health care system and various measures to cut poverty. Yet many of those who joined the anti-government movement earlier this year, dismissed the electorate for being uneducated and ill-informed. Unfortunately many social movement leaders also took this position. Instead of respecting the poor and the electorate, they demanded that the king sack the government. Although the king refused to do this, the position taken by the anti-Thaksin movement has helped pave the way for this coup.
It is now up to us in the peoples’ movement to once again struggle for democracy in Thailand. This struggle for democracy can be the only road to real and lasting political and social reform which is much needed in order to make Thai society a more just and peaceful society. In the near future we shall have to make sure that the Thai Social Forum takes place in late October this year and that this forum creates a nucleus for democracy and social justice.
An earlier article by Giles Ji Ungpakorn which explains some of the background to the current situation A Confused Response to Corruption