Copyrighted material


by Pueng Vongs

on Thailand's military coup

(PNS) -- After the bloodless, "smooth as silk" coup in my native country of Thailand this week, the e-mails, calls and photos from Thai friends and loved ones started pouring in.

"I think this coup should have been done earlier," my cousin who lives in Bangkok wrote. "(Prime Minister) Thaksin Shinawatra believed he could do whatever he wanted by using his power and money to buy judges, independent organizations etc., and avoid paying taxes from selling his wireless Shin Corp. to a Singaporean company...How could he sell Shin Corp. to a foreign company when its businesses involved national security (satellite and cell phones)? The people informed Gen. Prem Tinsulananonda, Privy Council president loyal to the King, to do something before this country becomes a failed state."

I called Paison Promnui, editor of the Asian Pacific News, a Thai-language weekly in Los Angeles, to get his reaction. "It wasn't a violent coup, it was a 'soft coup,'" he said. "In the 1970s we had violent coups and the last one was 15 years ago. But now we didn't have one bullet fired. We used to struggle with military dictatorships. Now we struggle with Thaksin Power. I and many others think it is right for the military to intervene."

And this from a Thai friend in San Francisco: "People in Thailand I've spoken to are very happy. The general says he is doing this for the King. I think a lot of people were scared that Thaksin would find a way back in coming elections, but now that the coup has happened everything will be all right."

He echoed what other Thais I spoke to have said: "This is a new day for Thai democracy."

The use of the term democracy in the context of guns, tanks and a military takeover makes me uneasy. As I watch Thais bandy about the term, I'm reminded of the times I have traveled to Asia and encountered people who think that McDonald's and Pizza Hut are quintessential American foods.

I left my homeland more than 30 years ago for the United States. Over the years I've seen Thailand tussle and turn to break free of its history of bloody coups and takeovers and stick to a system where leaders hold the mandate of the people. Thais eagerly tried on these new democratic clothes in the same way they snatched up Western brands from Prada to Gucci that flooded the country during Shinawatra's term in office. When reports mounted that the prime minister abused his powers for financial gain, I was proud to see my compatriots take to the streets in protest like they had seen others do from Taipei to Rome.

As the tanks rolled in on Tuesday, however, I wondered if my country had taken a step back. Others did too. "The fact that this change of government was effected through force shows that, whatever we say about having matured politically, we are basically still an extremely fragile society," wrote Suthichai Yoon, editor of the Nation, a daily newspaper in Bangkok.

But as I survey the state of American democracy, I am at a loss for any advice to give my Thai cousins.

We have a president who supports torture for those deemed enemies of the state. He also wants to deny some noncitizens the legal instrument of habeas corpus, which allows a detainee to challenge his or her imprisonment.

And while human rights groups are condemning Thailand for using military force to exact political changes, the Bush administration is being accused of having threatened Pakistan with bombs unless they cooperated with the president's war on terrorism. Oh, and we are waging war in Iraq to secure democratic freedoms.

Back in the fledgling Thai democracy, there is still hope. Thai military coup leaders say they are narrowing in on a new prime minister, whom they say they will name in two weeks. The top candidate is a lawyer, they say, someone who can rewrite the country's constitution to install greater checks and balances. New elections will follow in a year, they say.

So perhaps my Thai friend was correct, and everything will be all right in my homeland. I wish I could say the same now about the United States.

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Albion Monitor   September 22, 2006   (

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