Coup of Happiness?
The people of Thailand have proved that they are unwilling to put up with the restrictions of the army.
Even though Thailand’s Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha may call his takeover a ‘harmonizing’ coup, the reality is not so rosy.
Political chaos rarely has a happy ending and the beautiful country Thailand is no exception. The first female Prime Minister of the country, Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted by the Thai constitutional court in May for transferring the national security head, who was appointed by the oppositionled administration in 2011. Changes at the higher level were so abrupt that even the elections scheduled by Shinawatra could not take place.
Following her departure from the government, a caretaker government was installed. However, the ensuing
violent protests by various government and anti-government factions forced the Thai Army to declare martial law in the country. Later, after only two days of futile talks between political parties, the Thai Army also declared a coup on May 22.
Even though the man behind the coup – Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha – may stress on it being a ‘harmonizing’ coup with a ‘Happiness’ song, the reality is not so rosy. The real picture of the coup depicts a highly restricted and monitored media, government ministries infiltrated with men in green and politicians and leaders in detention. In fact, with journalists being threatened, the social media being regulated and penalties being imposed for voicing dissent, a Thai academic has compared the current-day Thailand to the society depicted in George Orwell’s novel 1984!
Thailand’s history of coups, with the first one imposed in 1932, had largely been a reflection of society’s detachment from the political sphere in general. Politics was merely a power game, with military and civilian leaders showing little regard for the good of the people. This lack of public involvement changed in 1992 when the people fought back for civilian rule after the 17th coup in the country. This eventually led to the restoration of a civilian government and ushered in political stability for some time.
This time around, what is interesting is not the manner in which the coup was enacted or the army’s insistence that the people stay ‘happy’ with it, but the transformation of the Thai society into a potent force that is aware of its political rights and of the need for a free society with democracy. That the protestors have unleashed their wrath and expressed their disdain at yet another takeover by the army does not come as a surprise anymore considering the changing thinking patterns of the people of Thailand who are espousing liberal views. The level of political consciousness among the Thais at this point in time is noticeably higher than it has even been in the country’s history. People are unwilling to put up with new restrictions and stringent rules imposed by the army, with protestors brazenly holding derisive placards and putting up serious resistance to the military police.
So with a more socially aware and advanced society, a far cry from the rural society which existed up until a few decades back and which was mired in paternalistic rule, the people of Thailand do not seem to be as pliable as the army would have anticipated. Past military coups, financial crises and blind authoritarianism has helped alter opinions, molding them into a more aware and politically conscious force.
In fact, Yingluck Shinawatra belongs to the party that championed this change, led by her brother Thaksin Shinawatra. Thus, in a way, the longstanding history of military coups and dictatorial regimes is what actually triggered the rise of a changing society. With this kind of a challenge at hand, the Thai Army will have to be prepared to use some muscle which will, quite obviously, not add to its popularity amongst the masses.
Economic consequences are another aspect that will serve as fodder for further igniting the rage of the protestors. Evidence suggests that economic growth slows down after a coup. In Thailand’s case, the additional military spending required to sustain the takeover – especially considering the U.S.’s threat to stop military aid to the country – could be one of the causes for decelerating the economic growth and also for the population’s disdain.
What further adds to the instability of this coup is the lack of any defined agenda by the army. Political and economic stability may be the ultimate goal, but the definite means for achieving these goals have not been pronounced by the Thai Army. Punishing people for propagating democracy, whisking away those who sit in silent and peaceful opposition, and literally blocking off Thailand’s connections with the world through a heavily controlled media does not seem to be the optimal strategy to follow.
The consequent effects on the country’s economic growth and changing paradigms are also a cause for concern. Given the current stance of the military, one will be hard-pressed to believe that the situation will remain hunky-dory even after the army clears out. That’s why a sound agenda and strategy, backed by thorough dealmaking and negotiations, seems to be the order of the day rather than the ruthless extradition of protestors under the guise of a ‘Happiness’ song.
That the military rule will come to an end is a no-brainer because it eventually will, like it has been in the past. General Prayuth has indicated that a temporary constitution will be put in place by September. However, it will be a year before the new general elections will take place. Thankfully though, the nationwide curfew has been lifted to curtail some damage to the country.
But this time around, while packing its bags, the military would have learned that the more politically conscious Thai population is a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully, this will discourage the army from indulging in any such a misadventure in the future. However, a more important point for contemplation is not whether or not the army will go back to the barracks but how the coup will affect an advancing nation’s economy and political stability. One hopes that the rising power of the people will save the country from further chaos and help restore democratic rule and freedom of speech sooner rather than later.