When is the abhorrent practice of staging a coup justifiable?
Tuesday's coup broke a 15-year streak of the military not intervening in Thai politics, a situation that used to be the norm. Although there is widespread support for the bloodless coup led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the leader of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM), it is deplorable that it happened.
However, among average Thais the intervention is considered a "necessary evil" to remove the current political stumbling blocks.
Was the coup a major setback for Thai democracy? There are two answers to this question.
The first is yes, because it has inevitably brought back the much-dreaded role of the military in shaping the political future of Thailand. Since 1932, Thailand has lived under a military dictatorship on several occasions - for some 15 years. The military's meddling with politics and business has been the greatest malaise in our political system.
The notion that became popular following the bloody uprising in 1992 - that the Army could be returned to their barracks - no longer holds. This might set a bad precedent and encourage the military to interfere in civilian affairs in the future.
The military's track record, when it comes to respecting human rights, is not good, and this coup could further establish a precedent whereby the Army has veto power in the overall scheme of things. It could further revive the previous cosy relationship between military leaders and politicians-cum-businessmen.
Furthermore, if this trend continues unchecked, it could lead to the legitimisation of the military performing a dual-function in both matters of defence and politics, as is the case in Indonesia.
The coup makers argued that their actions were necessary to purge corrupt and undemocratic government leaders and officials. They all say that in the beginning. The jury is still out and the timeframe for the leaders to prove themselves is very narrow.
On the other hand, this coup is quite popular both in Bangkok and in the provinces. A survey conducted by Suan Dusit showed that the majority of Thais - 84 per cent - support the coup. Support was higher in the provinces at 86 per cent compared with 82 per cent in Bangkok.
It is interesting to note that 75 per cent believed that the political situation would improve, while 5 per cent thought it would get worse. The middle-class and elite in Bangkok and major cities mostly welcome the coup, seeing it as the sole option left to restore normalcy after months of political stalemate.
Their support must be viewed in the context that they accept the coup as a short-term means to deal with the political impasse, not as a long-term solution.
Between these two arguments, however, it is imperative to see this coup in a more calm and rational manner. His Majesty the King has given his tacit endorsement to Sonthi's leadership and integrity. When Uttaradit was flooded and suffered severe damage at the end of May, His Majesty spoke to Sonthi and asked the Army to provide immediate assistance. This footage was shown widely on evening TV programs.
His Majesty's support is crucial for two reasons. First, it helped consolidate Sonthi's position and win the support of the rank and file from various regions and headquarters. Moreover, it also helped prevent bloody clashes between rival military groups. On Tuesday evening, troops loyal to Class 10, headed by Thaksin's buddy Maj-General Prin Suwannathat, were still active and positioned in strategic spots on the outskirts of Bangkok. It is not wrong to say that without Royal support, troops commanded by Sonthi and Maj-General Anupong Phaochinda, commander of the First Army Region, would have encountered fierce resistance. The outcome would have been uncertain.
Thus far, General Sonthi has pledged to set up a civilian government within two weeks, and for it to hold an election within a year. This does not provide sufficient grounds to believe that the future civilian government will be more democratic, transparent and accountable.
As head of the CDRM, Sonthi must show his proven professionalism as a democratic soldier by allowing the next government to operate independently and undertake appropriate political reforms without interference. The extension of Khunying Jaruvan Maintaka's term at the Office of the Auditor-General is a good indication that matters are moving in the right direction.
The appointment of neutral, independent-minded and honest civilians in all key positions is urgent.
Finally, without freedom of the press and freedom of expression as well as the active participation of civil society organisations, the coup makers' stated noble objective of promoting democracy would be futile.
Over the past few days, confusion has reigned in regard to the council's efforts to censor electronic and online media, including a ban on interactive portions of television programmes that allow callers to phone in or send short text messages that are then displayed on the screen. Whoever initiated these regulations should have known that the globalisation of news and information would render these restrictions obsolete.
It is understandable why the CDRM is sensitive to such information and its power. Under Thaksin, fake news and messages of hate were manufactured to promote his leadership and to undermine his opponents. These practices should be exposed, not hidden, and the public should be allowed to judge the information for themselves.
In the end, this is not a coup that, according to the traditional textbook sense of the term, should be roundly condemned. It is justifiable - if it gives rise to a democracy that is of a higher quality and a government that is much more responsive to the concerns of citizens than what we used to have.