Published on July 12, 2007
What the coup-makers did has been touted as a pro-democracy coup against a democratically elected leader who turned out to be tyrannical and corrupt. Sonthi seems to have enjoyed being seen as a white knight coming to the rescue of the oppressed.
The promises to restore Thailand to full democracy that were given have been honoured so far. An interim government led by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont was installed and the National Legislative Assembly was set up to draft a new constitution, which is now being readied for a referendum. Investigations into allegations of corruption concerning Thaksin and members of his cabinet are also under way, and a general election is tentatively scheduled for November or December.
The CNS and the Surayud government appear to be in control of the overall political situation for now, after Thaksin loyalists managed to stir things up by organising anti-military protests in Bangkok and elsewhere following the Constitution Tribunal's verdict dissolving the Thai Rak Thai Party.
The struggle between the urban middle class, who regard the coup as a necessary evil to rid politics of a despot, and the rural masses, who continue to support the populist demagogue Thaksin, will likely go on beyond the planned general election. The outcome is far from certain, as Thaksin loyalists have started to regroup with many of them setting up new political parties to carry on the fight.
The chances of Thaksin staging a triumphant comeback may be slim because the deposed prime minister, his family and some of his former ministers will be tied up in court proceedings defending themselves against several allegations of corruption for the foreseeable future. However, political forces that remain loyal to Thaksin cannot be underestimated as they could still have an impact on the outcome of the upcoming general election.
Thaksin loyalists have already begun a high-profile campaign calling for a 'No' vote against the draft constitution in the referendum to be held next month. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to mount a credible challenge against the military junta and the Surayud government, who are revving up an aggressive campaign for a 'Yes' vote for the new charter.
The military junta can always choose the 1997 constitution, which was abrogated after the coup, make slight adjustments and then promulgate it in the event the draft charter is rejected in the referendum. However, it is this unpredictability concerning the outcome of the referendum and, later, the results of the next election, that is causing Sonthi and members of the military junta much anxiety.
Sonthi's worst fear is obviously that somehow in the future the tables will be turned against him by subsequent political circumstances beyond his control once he retires as Army chief at the end of September. The fear then would be that his enemies or insincere friends might take advantage of his vulnerability and persecute him either for staging the coup or on some other pretext.
When Sonthi began testing the waters concerning a possible run in the upcoming election as the leader of a political party backed by the all-powerful military in order to secure himself a position of power, if not the premiership, he did it in order to protect himself.
It is a bad idea that will not only get Sonthi entangled in the most cynical form of politics that he obviously knows little about, but also belie the claim that the military is a force for good and a promoter of democracy.