Thailand's Army Still Looms Large in Politics
Posted by Bulatlat
BANGKOK - Even though Thailand's last
military coup was 15 years ago, when Bangkok motorists spotted tanks
rolling down the street last week, many thought the army was up to its old
tricks once again.
"I received more than 10 calls from
people saying they had seen several tanks on the street and asking in a
shaky voice if there was a coup," said Jakrapan Kunanyatirakul of FM 91
"We called the army for an explanation
and the answer was it was troops returning from up-country exercises."
With Thailand mired in a political
crisis now in its ninth month and tensions escalating between the army,
police, palace and government, the callers could not be accused of being
Military chiefs vow the army will stay
out of the mess left by April's annulled election, but with 23 coups or
attempted coups during 74 years of on-off democracy, many view their
protestations with skepticism.
"Although the chances of success now
are much less, it's almost impossible to dismiss fears of a coup here
since we still have many politically active soldiers," said security
analyst Panitan Wattanayakorn at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
In uniform, in politics
While Thailand may have moved on from
the time when men in uniform sat squarely in Government House, army
meddling in politics -- and politicians meddling in the army -- remains
the order of the day.
In a clear attack on Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra in June, top royal adviser Prem Tinsulanonda, one of
many former generals turned prime minister, donned his old cavalry uniform
to tell cadets their duty was to serve the crown, not the government.
The previous month, shortly after
April's inconclusive election, army commander-in-chief Sonthi
Boonyaratglin waded into the fray by letting it be known publicly that
revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej was upset by the political mess.
In late August, after police arrested a
junior army officer near Thaksin's home in a car packed with explosives,
Thaksin immediately sacked General Pallop Pinmanee as deputy director of
the shadowy Internal Security Operations Command.
Pallop contemptuously dismissed any
involvement in the plot, saying: "If I had wanted to kill him, the Prime
Minister would not have escaped."
Critics accuse Thaksin of staging the
attempt to win sympathy from voters.
The alleged bomb plot followed the
surprise reassignment in July of more than 100 middle-ranking officers --
many of them seen as Thaksin allies -- from key infantry posts in the
Some analysts saw the army
commander-in-chief's reshuffle as a pre-emptive move against a pro-Thaksin
putsch, given the increasingly high stakes shadow boxing between the
army/palace establishment and Thaksin, a populist politician and former
policeman who made a fortune in the telecoms industry.
Others read the opposite: the military
was clearing the way for intervention against Thaksin.
"There is no unity among the armed
forces now," political scientist Prayad Hongtongkhum said. "But many unit
commanders realize coups are outdated and will only make matters worse."
Sept. 19, 2006
© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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