Thai coups on the government
Coups happen regularly all over the world, similarly in Thailand. The exact number of coups that have taken place in Thailand is not exactly known. The total numbe r is estimated to be between 20 and 30 coupes. Since the start of the 20th century, there have been 13 successful coups in Thailand, the last of which was in 2014. In modern history, Thailand has had more coups than any other country in the world. Recent events have once again created tensions in the country and there are now daily protests for changes in Thailand. Will this cause another coup?
What is a coup?
A coup is short for coup d’état. Researchers define a coup as an illegal and overt attempt, by the military or other members of the government and civil service, to overthrow the current head of state. Coups happen mainly for four reasons: the armed forces have the interest, the capacity, a degree of popular support and no legitimate opponent. The military can easily mobilize a lot of people without internal resistance and having to explain a plan.
Between 1950 and 2016 there were around 475 coup attempts in nearly 100 countries. 46% of these attempts were successful and 53 were unsuccessful. The most recent attempt was in Mali, in August this year. Coup attempts took place in 94 countries between 1950 and 2010. Most of these took place in Africa and America (36.5% and 31.9%). This is followed by Asia and the Middle East with 13.1% and 15.8% respectively. Europe has by far the fewest coups, with only 2.6% of the total.
The reason why in some areas there are a lot of coups is that these countries in these areas share similar traits. These countries tend to be poorer and have less developed political institutions. Research has shown that if a country has had a coup once, it is more likely to happen again. Thailand has a ‘coup culture’, which means that it has normalised military coups d’état. In a country that is completely dictatorial or completely democratic, there is little chance of a coup taking place. Thailand is a country that is a little in between, which makes it more susceptible to a coup. The military has always been at the forefront of politics and democracy has never really taken root. Since the coup in 1932, Thailand has had 29 prime ministers. That is nearly double the number of presidents in the United States
A successful coup can have good and bad consequences for a country. If the new leader takes care better of the people than the previous leader, this is a good development. This can also be the other way around, which is of course a bad development. When a coup fails, the leader often acts harder than he did before and that works against the goal that the coup leader often wants to achieve. It depends on the country and the intentions of the coup leader what the consequences for future political and economic developments in the respective country are.
Throughout the Thai history, Thailand has experienced a lot of governmental coups and. Many coups have succeeded and some have failed as well. From military coups to restore peace and stability to movements of citizens.
The role of the military in Thai politics
The military seems to have a very important role in Thai politics. The military has a big influence on the political environment and have overthrown many governments and prime ministers. Coups had a lot of impact on Thailand. Coups have resulted in Thailand to become a constitutional kingdom instead of an absolute monarchy and the change of the countries’ name. According to Thai constitution, the army has the right to intervene in political affairs. It is fact than many former prime ministers of Thailand were military generals. The military being a part of the political environment has resulted in many bloody coups, protests, arrests and executing of rivals and removal of opposing political parties.
Development of the Thai government over the years
The start of a modern Thailand
This timeline starts in 1932. This coup also called the Siamese Revolution is considered to be the beginning of a new modern Thailand. This revolution started by students that all had studied in Europe. A young lawyer, Pridi Phanomyong and an artillery officer, Plaek Pibul Songkhram better known as Phibun Songkhram, who studied military science in Europe, started a political party. In the first half of the century military leader Phibun, played a huge part in Thai history. In 1927 the People’s Party was formed, which eventually would cause a revolution and the end of an absolute monarchy. In July 1932 when the king was not in Bangkok, a bloodless was staged. The army was brought under control, the royal officials were imprisoned and eventually the king agreed to a rule under constitution.
Plaek Phibun Songkhram
In 1938, Phibun became prime minister of Thailand. In 1939 the name former name of Thailand, Siam, was changed to Thailand. Shortly after becoming prime minister, Phibun Purged Thailand of his political enemies in 1939. Many of the enemies of Phibun were arrested and imprisoned or even executed. Phibun being allies with Japan resulted in Thailand looking more and more like an occupied state of Japan. Phibun wanted to declare war against the US and Great Britain and argued that Thailand had no choice because he assumed that Japan would win the war. In 1942 Thailand experienced devastating floods. With their back turned on the allies, Thailand suffered from shortage of many goods. Japan could help barely since the tide in the war had changed and Japan was losing the war. Eventually anti-Japanese groups were formed in Thailand that wanted to free Thailand of the Japanese and the government.
Then in 1944 Phibun had to resign. The allies were winning the Second World War and the pro Japanese leader Phibun was forced by the parliament to resign. One year later the Japanese surrendered in the Second World War. Phibun was arrested for being a war criminal, but was released shortly after his trials.
In 1947 two retired army generals and Phibun led a coup to overthrow the civilian government. The prime minister fled the country and an interim government and new prime minister was appointed by the leaders of the coup. A new constitution was promised. This was just a prime minister to fool the public because in reality Phibun was in control. In 1948 Phibun forcefully removed the prime minister from office and Phibun continued as prime minister. This coup is considered to be a silent coup due to the few military officers involved and only removing the prime minister. Phibun did not rule with much stability and peace. There were multiple attempts to overthrow Phibun and his government by rival military groups. Phibun tried to win the support of military factions, but unfortunately for him he failed. The new commander in chief, Sarit, organized a coup d’état which ended with no one harmed in 1957. Phibun was offered an ultimatum where would resign. A few days after this ultimatum, the public went on protests against Phibun and the government. The king of Thailand approved this as well, since the king disapproved Phibun for a long time. The public was in favour of this coup as well.
In 1958, minister of defence and commander of the army, Sarit, would yet organize another coup. Sarit discarded political parties, the government and suspended the constitution. In 1959 Sarit was elected as prime minister and the king of Thailand approved the new constitution. Sarit would continue to be prime minister until he died in 1963 of liver failure.
In 1971 there was another coup on the government. Prime Minister Thanom launched this coup on his own government, because he believed that the country was under the threat of communists. This event inspired students to protest for a full democracy. These protests led to many killings of protestors. And resulted eventually to the removal of prime minister Thanom, but he resumed the control over the army. The military government lost their power and free elections were held and a full democratic government was elected in 1973.
In 1976, a massive student massacre happened. The military accused students that they were communists. This protest led to the death of 46 students, 167 wounded and more than 3000 students were arrested. In 1977 there was yet another military coup. This coup was without any force, but it is argued that one aristocrat was replaced by another.
In 1991 there was another military coup on the democratically elected government. This coup had no casualties. The constitution and parliament were again discarded. Again a general was elected to be the new prime minister.
The military organized a coup against the government, while the prime minister was in a UN summit. The coming elections, political activities, protests, the parliament and the constitutional court were all scrapped. This coup was justified by accusing the government of for instance insulting the king or corruption.
The most recent coup on the Thai government was the coup in 2014. The army of Thailand launched its 12th coup, overthrowing the democratically elected government. The Royal Thai army claimed that they had to launch a coup to restore peace and stability to the Thai kingdom. Months before the coup, there were many anti-government protests. The unrest began in Bangkok at the end of 2013 when the then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the lower house of parliament. After months of political unrest, the military took power. That was reported by military commander Prayut Chan-ocha in May 2014. Prayut has been the Prime Minister of Thailand since that event.
All these coups were organised to either bring stability, purge enemies, or to try and achieve a fully democratic government. The constitution has been altered a lot of times, for instance resulted the change of the kingdom in a constitutional kingdom. The military is involved in a majority of these coups it seems that many army generals become prime minister.
Another coup in Thailand?
Protests are currently happening in Thailand, with many people demanding political reform. Among these protesters, there are mainly younger people. The protests began with a ban on a political party that was very popular among young people.
Initially, the demonstrators demanded the release of arrested activists and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power in 2014 through a military coup and is now the head of a civilian government through disputed elections. In the course of the year, increasing demands were made, such as political reforms, the rewriting of the constitution, an end to the influence of the Thai army on politics and, unprecedented for Thailand, restrictions on the power of the Thai royal house. The coalition party of Prayut even spoke critically about the prime minister for the diminished state of the Thai economy and more. Tens of thousands of Thai people have already taken to the streets to protest, even when Prayuth declared a state of emergency in which groups of more than five people have since been banned.
As has been said, political unrest and military coups d’état are common in Thailand, but criticism of the 300-year-old monarchy is very special. The Thai Government is doing its best to stop the protests and is using measures that counteract what the protesters are fighting for. The authorities have already arrested dozens of people in connection with the protests and have launched criminal proceedings against at least 65 people. They also shut down the outspoken Voice TV, which according to many human rights organisations this is unacceptable and runs counter to the freedom of the media. In addition to Voice TV, three other media were closed down: Prachatai, The Standard and The Reporters. They also threaten to block the Telegram messaging service. They also use laws like the Computer Crime Act against people because of what they post and share online. Two people have been arrested for attempting violence against the queen because they obstructed the queen’s motorcade and could go to prison for life. Demonstrators report harassment for attending meetings, including home visits and threats of criminal prosecution. The demonstrators say they are protesting peacefully, but the government is not tackling them peacefully.
Some experts say that the risk of a military coup is realistic. The Thai king has meanwhile flown back to his homeland after spending the whole year in Germany. He will try to restore order, but he is not too popular in the country anymore. The previous king was very much loved by the Thai people. The current king, Rama X, is not and it is difficult to predict what he will do. In the past, he has done strange things, such as declaring his dog to be an army marshal. He also has a bad reputation among women and has placed part of the army under his command, which indicates a hunger for power. The demand for a reform of the monarchy comes from the feeling of the people that he has little involvement with his people.
When, in 2014, the leader of the Thai army, Prayut, was asked whether there would be a coup, he denied this time after time. Now that he is the Prime Minister himself and was asked the same question recently, he answered ‘Hey! Go on, go home’. Prayut didn’t take the idea of a coup while he’s still in power very well. “Who? Who’s staging a coup?” he asked a reporter.
The army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong could have taken the same route as Prayut. He retired at the end of last month and if he wanted to remain power, he could have staged a coup, when he was still in power over the army. He did not and he got replaced by Narongpan Jittkaewtae. Narongpan did not directly criticise the anti-government protesters but said that the Thai society should tolerate people with different beliefs. He did pledge to protect the monarchy, the Buddhist religion, the country and stated that there is zero per cent chance there will be a coup. It is not unexpected that he said that there will be no coup. That is what all his predecessors said, even those who ultimately carried out a coup. The army chief is one of the few people in Thailand that has the power to stage a coup. So, if the army is not the one that is preparing a coup, it is unlikely to happen.
When you look at the history of Thailand and coups, it is not unthinkable that we can put another coup in the history books this year.