Of Democracy and Coups

The timing of the military coup in Thailand could not have been better planned. With the attention of the world focused on leaders of governments converging together for the opening day of the United Nations General Assembly, the coup stole the spotlight of the world’s media away from New York to Bangkok. It was the unraveling of a master strategist at work – all indicators pointing to the King of Thailand, with his obedient soldier, the Chief of Army. 

The detailed planning ensured that it was bloodless, swift and precisely executed with a back-up, which indicates that detailed ground work had already been completed before the actual coup. The coup seems like a continuation to an unfinished task of the people’s movement which rallied for the resignation of Thaksin Shinawatra as Prime Minister and demanded for free and fair elections, some months ago. But what must have precipitated the coup could be related to Thaksin’s arrogance of power to recently reinstall himself as the caretaker Prime Minister of Thailand even after parliament had been dissolved months ago. 

Inspite of talks of a coup circling in Bangkok for some weeks now, the emphasis now is on the question of timing. By timing and executing the coup in the manner chosen, they have with one action within a stipulated time-frame embarrassed Thaksin by removing his political legitimacy as leader of Thailand in the presence of world leaders in the United Nations; and by drawing world attention to Bangkok they have symbolically established and legitimized their position without any significant civil strife within the country. 

But most fundamentally, without an operational base within the country it limits Thaksin’s ability to have direct contact with his supporters; and in his absence it would take a longer period of time for his supporters to regroup. By the time Thaksin’s supporters regroup and react, the coup leaders expect themselves to be well on their way into the transitionary stage with an acting prime minister in place. The announcement to hold elections in October 2007 is a move to indicate their intent to restore democratic rule in Thailand.   

Thaksin has been elected as prime minister not just once, but twice. He is the 31st and 32nd Prime Minister of Thailand. During his rule, the already corrupt system became much more corrupt and many Thais feel the democratic process was severely impaired to the extent that Thaksin was functioning in an undemocratic manner. The structures and systems of checks and balances on power ceased working and the democratic requirement of accountability could not be held through a democratic process. Tragically, a democratic leader usurped the institutions of democracy through the arrogance of power.     

While one cannot condone military coups, it is essential to put into perspective the conditions that ignited institutions and people to take such drastic measures. The Thai coup experience should serve as lesson that the needs and rights of the people should never be taken for granted, and that the process of electoral democracy is only just one aspect of democratic value. Even as the military coup is being referred to as a setback for democracy, lets hope that it is only be a step forward to genuine democracy.