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‘Yellow Ribbon Coup’: a step backward or Thai way to end political impasse?

Suwit Laohasiriwong, Ph.D.
For those who follow Thai politics under the richest Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatara, they will understand that ‘money politics’ has become more and more important during his 6 years in power. His popularity is very high in the country side of the North and Northeast region, while he tried desperately to win some seats in the south, but he did not succeed. His arrogant leading style, has made him increasing unpopular among middle class Thais, and technocrats. The conflicts between pro & anti Thaksin have divided Thai society right down to family level. There were several incidents of clashes between the pro & anti Thaksin groups just about everywhere he went, even in the big shopping mall in Bangkok. Many people came out to tell him to take a break from politics partly because his stubborn, outspoken and quick response on many issues to the public has created even more conflicts or made situation like violence in Southern Thailand worsen. The opinion column in the Nation Newspaper today by Mr. Thanong Khanthong entitled “Sonthi outsmarted Thaksin at the eleventh hour” can give us some inside on what was going on that day.  

“Had Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin not moved as fast as he did to stage a coup on Tuesday, Thaksin Shinawatra would have launched his own coup a day later. Don't be fooled by Thaksin's claim that he stands for democracy.

As the political crisis developed to the point of no return concerning whether Thaksin should stay or be booted out, General Sonthi had no choice but to swallow his words about the days of military coups being over. He had been very reluctant to resort to a coup, as he was known not to have any political ambitions. Moreover, he was not known to be an enemy of Thaksin. Although General Sonthi has a good relationship with both Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda and Privy Council member General Surayuth Chulanont, he came to power partly due to a political compromise struck with Thaksin.

However, an intelligence report reached General Sonthi's camp stating that there would be bloodshed on Wednesday. The People's Alliance for Democracy had planned to hold a political rally that day at the Royal Plaza in order to force Thaksin out of politics. Had that rally taken place, there would have been clashes between the People's Alliance for Democracy and Thaksin's supporters and blood would have been spilt on Rajdamnoen Avenue. If only Thaksin had promised that he would take a break from politics and allow a period of political reforms to take place, the PAD and other branches of the anti-Thaksin movement would have declared victory. All political confrontations would have subsided. Thaksin could have run for office once the Constitution was amended, and he would have been returned to the premier's post, probably in the latter part of next year.  

However, Thaksin never considered taking a break from power. Again, don't be fooled by his "taking a break" story - the idea never crossed his mind.  

The General Sonthi camp learned that during the PAD rally, Yongyuth Tiyapairat and Newin Chidchob were planning to rally their supporters to create an ugly scene at the Royal Plaza. During the ensuing commotion, there would be human casualties. Thaksin would then have stepped in and declared a state of emergency, placing the country under martial law.”

If you are wondering why 81 % of Thai supported this coup from the poll taken one day after, the opinion of the student who was interviewed by the Nation Newspaper may sum up how many Thais felt quite well, she said “ I don’t agree with any coup but this time I do. I changed my mind because Thaksin didn’t conced to resign from the post. The longer he stays at the helm the worse our country will be destroyed. Although the country’s reputation will be ruined (because of the coup) it’s better than letting him stay in his power”.  

While academics, civil society groups keep a close eye on what will happen between now and the two weeks period when the CDRM promised to appoint civilian led interim government and “temporary constitution”. Political analysts also wait and see what will happen to Thai Rak Thai party when the leader and his wife who was the ‘biggest donor’ to the party in the past will probably take a long holiday in England.

Suwit Laohasiriwong, Ph.D.

Institute for Dispute Resolution
Khon Kaen University, Thailand.

In association with Asia News Research