Coup Focus: 1) German researcher found Thailand at “High Risk” of more coups

By Ranger, Thai Intel political journalist

With the middle class of Bangkok, including most press, welcoming the 2006 coup, and as recent as 2012, a protest by the far extreme right wing, calling for a coup to freeze Thailand, getting about 10K to 20K protesters,  a question many ask is if more coup can occur in Thailand?

Many say “Yes” a coup can occur again in Thailand. Only last week, PM Yingluck Shinawatra delivered a pro Democracy speech in Mongolia. That speech has out-raged the Elite Establishment and its press. For example, the mostly far right Thai Rath newspaper, quoting source, reacted by warning Yingluck of a coup.  And Abhisit’s Democrat Part, in response, rush out a letter to deliver to the globe, refusing to call the 2006 a Coup a Coup, but says, quote: “The military intervene.”

  • “The more coups in the past, the more likely coups will take place in the future, so Thailand is a high-risk, coup-prone country,” says Aurel Croissant, author of the book Democratisation and Civilian Control, where the book research on the topic over four years in which more than 180 people in Thailand were interviewed. He is also a political scientist at Heidelberg University in Germany.

He was speaking at the “Democratic Control of the Military: Thailand in Comparative Perspective” forum at Chulalongkorn University‘s Institute of Security and International Studies. The forum was held with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES).

Thailand has made poor progress making the transition from military to civilian rule and faces a high risk of future coups, he says. He says Thailand has experienced 18 coups since 1932. The book ranks Thailand fifth in the world for the number of coups staged between 1946 and 2010.

  • Thailand remains among those countries that have failed to institutionalize civilian control over the military, according to an expert on the military’s role in Asia, says Croissant. Croissant predicted it would be a long time before Thailand can achieve genuine civilian control over the military. It will depend on not just the military refraining from getting involved in politics but also on strong civilian support and consensus that civilians should have oversight of the military.

“There’s no consensus on that they will not pull the military into political conflicts,” said Croissant. who jointly conducted research on the topic over four years in which more than 180 people in the Kingdom were interviewed.

Croissant said the military’s power can be exerted not just through the staging of coups d’etat but also through influence over the government’s decision-making processes. The lack of coups doesn’t automatically mean that civilian oversight exists, he said. “The military can exercise control over policy because democracy is weak.”

  • However, he says the September 19, 2006 coup is a sign of the army’s “eroding military control” over Thai politics and society. He added that there are three factors that contribute to coup risks – the strengths or weaknesses of civil society, the strength of legitimacy of the political regime and the frequency of military coups in the past.

“[The Army] has a learning curve and learns how to conduct a coup,” Croissant said.

Croissant said the three factors that make Thailand vulnerable to coups include the lack of a strong civil society, legitimacy questions about the government and “a lot of coups in the past”. Thailand’s most recent coup was in September 2006, when the military overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Before that is was a coup against Chartchai Choonawan.

In ever coup of the past, there was the usage of the formula, saying to coup is to protect the Royalty and stop corruption.

“The most important thing is to have a strong civilian consensus between political actors that they will not seek the army’s support,” says Croissant.

  • Thailand, like other countries in the region, has yet to develop firm institutions for democratic control of the armed forces, he said. The military has not been turned into an effective tool for the protection and security of citizens. There might be some moves toward civilian control of the army, but such moves are never easy, says Croissant. He said the military still poses a danger to democracy as it has the power to overthrow the government, so reforming the armed forces requires a process of trial and error.

Military reform is dependent on the growth of democracy, the economic and social climate, as well as regional and international conditions.

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