Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Very Thai Coup

By now, you've probably heard about the overthrow of Thaksin Shinawatra. It caused some interest in the staffroom this morning. My fellow teachers were ambivalent about the coup itself, but were unanimous in wishing the back of that particular ex-P.M. On the other hand, the Vietnamese I spoke to about the episode thought the coup was a good thing - "The military getting rid of incompetent and corrupt politicians? What a good idea! It should happen..." Well, actually I don't feel like saying where they thought it should happen. Think laterally, folks.

A lot of governments are tut-tutting the affair, and calling for the quickest resumption of democracy, and issuing travel advisories like Wiemar banknotes. If I were in the same position I'd still issue the warnings (and strongly hint that democracy is a good thing), but I'd refrain from the tut-tutting. It has been that rare thing - a totally bloodless coup - but there's no 100% guarantee it will remain bloodless in the future. So I'd "reconsider your need to travel" to the country, to quote the similarly bloodless language of my DAFT.

Personally, I'd give it a 98% guarantee that Mr. Thaksin is not coming back, and there's not going to be any soldiers fighting for him either. It now appears that the king of Thailand blessed the whole episode. They take the monarchy seriously over there - far more than Australia has for at least a century. They still have lèse majesté on the books - up to 15 years for insulting their king. They really believe "the king can do no wrong" over there.  The matter has been fucking resolved.

As for the mild signs of disapprovals coming from foreign ministries over the globe - well, is it going to do any good? Thailand is an unusual place. Apart from China and Japan, it's the only country in the region that wasn't colonized by the Europeans - and unlike China, it wasn't conquered by the Japanese either - and unlike the Japan, they weren't even conquered by the Americans. Are you sensing a pattern here? In short, this is a country that has never really needed to listen to bloody "farangs" except when they think it is in their best interest. (For example, when money is involved.)  Plus the whole concept of "face", and the related idea of "saving it" is far more important that the west, or even in Việt Nam. Related to this is their ability to ignore unpleasant facts. (Sometimes, that's an ability I wish I had.) I'd gather that the military will politely but firmly ignore pontificating politicians and do what they want to do regardless. If you ignore them too much, they won't do what you want them to do. 

Oh, and if you have 30 minutes to spare, read Toppling Thaksin, courtesy of The New Left Review. It's eerily prophetic, considering it was written about four months ago. But it's not prophecy that I'm interested it - the article may get both the date and the manner of Thaksin's passing wrong, but that's not so important. What the article does is eschews dry legal fictions and gets into the interlocking powerplays of various factions in Thailand over the last 40 odd years - leading to yesterday's coup. It's essential reading for anyone interested in the region or political junkies - or in my case, both.