Thursday, September 20, 2007

Coup Anniversary

September 19th is the first anniversary of the coup that sent telecom mogul turned prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra packing to England and looks to have restored the pattern of weak governments interspersed with coups that Thailand has known since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932. While Thaksin was away, the tanks were rolled into the streets and a television broadcast plainly announced the coup. The next day, life went on as normal. When there's been 17 coups in the last 60 years, there's not much to do but sigh or roll your eyes and get on with the day.

There's no question that Thaksin was a bit of an asshole. He abused his unprecedented power to benefit his business interests, probably more blatantly and unabashedly than some other nation's leaders do. The fact remains that he had a clear recent mandate to rule the country. In 2005 he became the first prime minister to be re-elected EVER in Thai history. He was immensely popular in Issan, the poor north-eastern part of the country, and other rural areas. He started a number of projects to help alleviate poverty in Thailand, with mixed success.

There was his dirty little "war on drugs" which involved the extra-judicial killings of accused "drug dealers" (who in reality could have been simply political enemies, as there was never any investigation in the killings), hard to excuse. His mishandling of the insurgency in the deep south was unfortunate, particularly the Tak Bai incident in which 85 demonstrators were killed, having suffocated in the back of a truck transporting them to a detention center some ways away.

Was it right to kick the thug out? It depends on how much value you place on democracy. The military government has fumbled through a year, the Thai people have half-heartedly accepted a new, weaker constitution to replace the 1997 one. There are elections slated for the end of the year. In the meantime, Thailand has showed weak economic growth brought on by the political instability. While nearby Vietnam is raging along with China, Thailand is poking along. It seems to me the country would have been better off with a political solution to it's Thaksin problem, but hell, what do I know, I'm just a stupid farang.

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