Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Yep, it was a coup

And it was for the typical reasons:

Thailand's military coup leader Sondhi Boonyarataklin said the armed forces ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during the night because his government was tainted with corruption and cronyism.

The military had to ``take control and rectify this situation to enable the country to quickly return to normal and to restore solidarity among the people,'' Sondhi, who is army chief, said in a live television broadcast today.

The Thai Political Reform Council said earlier today it is in control of the Southeast Asian nation of 65 million people and declared its allegiance to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, according to statements read on state television. The country's revered king is the world's longest reigning monarch and marked his 60th year on the throne in June.
For the uninitiated, "corruption" is what coups are ALWAYS supposed to be about. The pure and noble military leaders are forced to step in because the government is simply too corrupt. Sadly, the situation rarely supports such an assertion, and I truly doubt that this is the case in Thailand, either, even with the corruption.

So what could it really be about?

Thaksin, who is popular in rural areas for easing farmers' debts, has headed a caretaker government since he dissolved Parliament in February.
Emphasis mine. I don't know much about this case, but I am all of a sudden very curious as to exactly who's holding these debts. If Thaksin is a populist who's forcing creditors to either forgive debt or at least not foreclose on it, then his response to his unpopularity will likely be to redouble those efforts. That may well piss people off.

From an Asia Times piece on Thaksin written by what appears to be a supporter:

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was elected in 2001 on a strongly populist economic platform now widely referred to as Thaksinomics. Since that time, Thaksin's populist policies have succeeded in producing rapid economic growth. The only factor that could derail Thailand's economy is the remote risk of social instability.

Replicating the leftward political shift that has swept over Latin America in the past several years, Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won a landslide victory in Thailand's 2001 general election. The electorate's strong disaffection with former prime minister Chuan Leekpai's pro-International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic policies was instrumental to Thaksin's victory.

Thaksin capitalized on this disaffection by campaigning on a populist platform that included the reversal of several key IMF policies. The TRT pledged to improve rural living conditions through new subsidized loans and the creation of a debt moratorium for farmers. In addition, the party pledged to improve the nation's health-care system.

Thaksin, reputably Thailand's wealthiest man, also pledged major changes for his country's business sector. Economic liberalization demanded by the IMF threatened many of Thailand's wealthy elite in both the private and public sectors. Thaksin promised to create a debt-management company to remove bad assets from the country's banks and eliminate significant amounts of private- and public-sector corporate debt.

Thaksin also hinted that he would oppose IMF-dictated bankruptcy legislation that would have closed many Thai companies. And he also alluded that he would reduce foreign investment in Thailand to protect domestic companies.

Interesting parallels and differences exist between the populist shift in Thailand in 2001 and the populist shift in Brazil in 2002.
Bolding mine. I get the feeling that "Thaksinomics" aren't overly popular among the investor class.

If I were a Chomskyian, I'd be looking very carefully at exactly who in Thailand's creditor pool is likely to benefit from this, and what sort of ties they have to the U.S. The key question is whether or not this is out of the blue, or whether the military got the "all clear" from the U.S. on this.

(Why the U.S.? Other regional players wouldn't kick up a fuss at the suspension of democracy in Thailand like the U.S. would, and the U.S. has a track record of quietly supporting coups against vaguely undemocratic populists.)

Judging by Thaksin's sketchy human rights record (a quick scan of his Wikipedia entry yields that ever-delightful phrase "extrajudicially executed") he fits that time-honored element of the "elites vs. third world populist" profile. The conflict over the sketchy April elections fits the profile as well, where somewhat undemocratic election elements (principally poorly placed ballot boxes) were used to justify the same kind of election boycotts that we saw in Venezuela. No surprise there- if the opposition parties know they'll be crushed and there's an opportunity to ensure a "round 2" by ditching the elections and calling for new ones, they'll take it.

What IS novel is the so-called "Finland Plan"--an alleged plan by Thaksin and his ally to overthrow the king of Thailand. The blogger Naphat certainly doesn't give the claim much credence, believing that it was merely an attempt to undermine the prime minister. Makes sense, and even if people didn't believe it at the time, it DOES set the groundwork up for attacking the prime minister as power-hungry, corrupt, and a threat to the system- all elements that would be necessary to legitimize a coup and ouster.

So it looks like we're seeing the same profile that we do in a lot of these cases. Honestly, although I don't think the U.S. is directly involved (it's kind of busy), the tactics and scenario could come out of a CIA handbook on "how to oust a populist," down to the inveighing in local newspapers about how populists are illegitimate because poor people are too dumb to vote.

The question is what happens in the upcoming repeat of the election. This is supposed to be temporary. If Thaksin wins again, though, will the military cede the floor? Or will they take more drastic steps?

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