Daily Archives: September 26, 2006

You call this a coup?

A Thai dancer in traditional dress walks in front of tanks at the Royal Plaza in Bangkok (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

When the news of the coup d’etat first came in from my friend in England, I felt a mixture of fear and excitement. What should I do? Tell Jay to pull over immediately and hide? Rush home and get ready? I knew those Che Guevara T-shirts and Rage Against The Machine CD’s were worth keeping! And Molotov cocktails are easy to make, right? Or did we just keep going and hope there would be no violence?

Coming from a country with a mature, coup free democracy, I had no idea what to expect. As it happened I was lucky enough to witness probably the most peaceful coup of all time.

It started in dramatic style. Thaksin Shinwat – on the advice of his personal astrologer (no that isn’t a joke) – was out of the country when it began. On hearing of the army movements, he transmitted a notice of a state national emergency and a nationwide curfew on one Thai TV channel. Less than two hours later, General Sondhi appeared on a separate channel to inform the nation what had happened. Then all media outlets were cut for about twelve hours. You have to wonder if events during Thaksin’s vacation have caused him to seek a refund from his astrologer.

Most folk in Thailand discovered the news the next day, but this nation has seen coups before and most people recognised the symptoms.

This time around though, things were different. No shots were fired. No students crushed. Heck, people were taking pictures next to the tanks (I’m still hoping to get a snap with Dylan), civilians were giving flowers to the troops, and some soldiers were seen smiling! A clear violation of Thai government employee conduct! The whole thing felt more like a parade than a revolution, far more “A Season to Remember” than “Apocalypse Now”.

The fact that most Thais have welcomed this is due in no small part to the sheer corruption and arrogance of the previous regime. I have mentioned this at length before but like so many others, I never saw a coup as a realistic possibility for an ending.

General Sondhi cut a smart figure in front of the national and foreign media. Smart and stern, yet occasionally cracking a genuine smile (something Thaksin never did), he has promised to install an interim PM and hold elections next year. In the meantime, he has called for an overhaul of government.

I don’t want to weigh heavy on politics here, but it’s worth noticing that many of the problems I discussed before have now been dramatically up hauled. Thaksin’s cronies – and there are many – have been bought or are being sought for justice. The instigator of the thuggish attacks on anti – Thaksin protesters , the head of Intelligence Services who framed Thaksin’s opponents for Lese Majeste, the supposedly independent bodies such as The National Counter Corruption Commission and the Office Attorney General have been replaced with those who were not sycophants to the PM. Only now are some Thai people beginning to understand the true depth of the previous regime’s corruption, greed, dishonesty and utter lack of remorse that couples with the alleged human rights violations such as the numerous executions commited during the (commendable in theory) war on drugs.

The harsh side to the coup is that some press freedoms have been temporarily restrained. In fairness, Sondhi’s military experience has made him aware of threats to an immediate retaliation, Thaksin’s chief PR drummers have been detained, and radio stations in the North East where the villagers form the bulk of the former PM’s support have been temporarily cut. For his part, Thaksin’s ego has, as ever, denied him any humility. He has told the press he is “taking a break” from politics – an act he eschewed when his antics had the country on the brink of a class war – and is rumored to be residing with Mohamed Al Fayed.

In reality, Thaksin must surely have known the game was up when the King – revered by the Thais – quickly endorsed the coup. Thaksin’s assets are now under investigation and the next few weeks should throw up some very interesting revelations.

The international reaction has been predictable: mostly timid condemnations. That’s understandable, since most world leaders would not be fully aware of what really happened in Thailand, particularly since Thaksin was a master manipulator and gifted with a silver (albeit forked) tongue. He had frequently cut the image of a modern leader and once told the world press “Thailand is a model for democracy”.

The US response was a little irking for the Thais. Apparently forgetting Ngo Dinh Diem, Saddam Hussain , Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Fidel Castro’s exploding cigars , George Bush condemned the coup and suggested a withdrawal of US aid. Other countries have followed suit.

For the Thais though, things continue as almost normal. They’ve seen it all before and at least nobody was hurt this time. For me, it’s reminded me that despite how fashionable the British find it to criticise and whine about their own country, we also have many things to appreciate about our own set up. And while it may be a drop in the ocean, it still feels good to see that at least sometimes, the bad guys get a little of what they deserve.

An Idiot’s Ransom

Travelling is fun! I do it as often as I can. I love spending my money in various ways, and I got my opportunity recently, to spend some in a way I din’t want to – OVERSTAY FINE! A catch for some travellers and residents, alike.

The 'Ticket'

Now, I know it’s stupid to ‘forget’ when you are due to be out of the Kingdom, but this will be an expensive reminder for the future. The ‘NEW’ law (I didn’t even know they had it) is 500 Baht per day for an overstay.

Then, to top that off, I had to come back to Nakhon Si Thammarat – with the DRIVER FROM HELL!

If this fellow wasn’t ‘high’ from the mixture of M150 and ‘Strepsils’, I don’t know much. Flat-out all the way! Horn-blaring. Lights-flashing. Telephone ringing. SMS-sending. ALL AT 115-125 Kph ! This included one ‘stretch’ of 130 kph through the main street of Ron Phibun – at 5.00pm when the streets were crowded! I couldn’t believe it.

So, watch out for this company’s drivers: –

The Company

Happy Travelling !

P.S. Roberto’s Retreat is back up and running!

Coup as viewed from Australia


Tanks are stationed outside the Royal Plaza in Bangkok.(AFP/Mike Clark)

The next two blogs I write are how I saw the coup from Australia.

I am in Melbourne, Australia at the moment. Yesterday as I walked to work I was stopped and asked if I had heard about the coup in Thailand. I hadn’t. As I got to work I was asked more about it. ?? So I got onto the computer and checked what had happened.

I was happy to see that General Sonthi had taken over, removing Thaksin as Prime Minister. Why happy? I was initially concerned that maybe some Thaksin supporters had taken over to ensure his power. But General Sonthi is apolitical. He is a professional Army soldier who intends to do what is best for Thailand and the King. So I was happy to see him in charge and immediately felt that he must have decided it was a necessary move.

It was still too early to ring Kanchana (in Bangkok). She would still be asleep. So I read some more about what was happening on the net.

People kept asking me about the coup and if my family was safe. HELLO?!? As one commentator stated you’d be more likely to be hurt slipping in your bathroom than being hurt in this coup in Thailand. Anyway, by mid morning here I rang home. All the mobiles were turned off still, so I rang the home phone and had a quick chat to Vava and Alif. They were getting ready for school I think and I didn’t mention the coup. They said Kanchana was still asleep. I waited until she sent me a text message and I rang her again. She hadn’t heard of the coup although expressed some disappointment that there was no movies on TV last night. She asked what I had heard. I told her a little. She was unconcerned and said she would go buy the paper for me.

I read a bit more about what was happening. Some of the foreign reporting was quite poor and DFAT had it’s usual unreasonable over-reaction. But it became quite clear that everything was OK. Thaksin had been getting more and more corrupt as Prime Minister and putting more of his relatives and friends in positions of power. He had used loop holes to avoid paying tax on a massive business deal for a telecommunications company that he sold to Singaporean investors. The other political parties were not behaving much better. Politics in Thailand had become almost as bad as it is in Western countries with the politicians just squabbling for power. The military had decided enough was enough. The government of Thailand should be here to serve the people and lead Thailand forward in a way beneficial to all Thai people. The current political situation was not achieving this. Hopefully the military will remove Thaksin’s mates from key positions and place in competent people who want to serve the country, they will hopefully make Thaksin pay his tax bill and hand over to an intelligent and wise care taker leader that can run the country until elections can be held again and the constitution ammended to avoid the politicians abusing it.

I talked to Kanchana again last night. She said people were happy and peaceful and everything was quiet. There was no fear.

People in Thailand generally like their military. It is the organisation that is there to protect them. From the polls I see this morning about 83% of people support the new leadership. The King has endorsed General Sonthi as the new ruler although no doubt he has advised him on the correct way to rule and to hand over power to the people as quickly as possible. It seems unlikely that there will be many protests. The normal protesters: The Dharma party, the students, the intellectuals – all wanted Thaksin out. Thaksin got much of his support from the rural people in the North and North East, but it seems that even these people support the military more than they do Thaksin. And in the end, the Thai people love peace and they love their King. It seems to me that the coup will likely be good for Thailand and actually will bring us back to a more democratic and representative rule. In fact already if 80% of people support the Army, then that is more than the 57% that voted for Thaksin last time. The coup may lead to a more unified and happy Thailand and may even help bring peace to the Southern provinces, who didn’t seem to like the last government.

The only sad thing has been to see the international reaction. Countries in the EU, Australia, USA have said that the coup was wrong. Excuse me, but please mind your own business. This is what is best for Thailand. There is no requirement for Thai democracy to be run exactly the same as Western democracy and in fact I think Thai democracy has a far better chance of doing what is right for the people. Something I have not seen in Australian politics for a long time.

Leters to Bangkok Post from Thais:

“…Democracy is not the mere casting of votes; it requires an institutional infrastructure that serves as checks and balances. For months people had strained to abide by the rule of law, it was painful. People from all walks of life had held peaceful demonstration after demonstration, presented huge amounts of evidence, and demanded explanations that had not been forthcoming…”

“…There are two points about Thailand which need to be considered by foreigners (Australia’s prime minister included). Democracy does not mean the same thing to everybody. Thailand is the most democratic nation in all of Asia. The democracy here is felt within the people rather than by rule of law. Most Thais do not feel this coup is necessarily a retrograde step. Instead, it is seen as a small deviation just to take stock of matters and most are comfortable with that…”