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Thailand political update following the Coup in September 2006

Thailand political update

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Thailand Coup

Late in the evening on September 19th the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a bloodless coup, while the Prime Minister was out of the country. Law and order is now being peacefully controlled by the military lead, Administrative Reform Council. They have announced that their motivation for the coup was to remove the embattled and unpopular leader, and they have no intention to assume leadership or control of the country. The situation in most tourist parts of the country remains unchanged.

The management of this website have decided to publish a summarised update on this site to clarify to tourists the situation and background to this coup in order to keep you clearly informed about your safety and the immediate stability of the country. Please use this to help finalise your travel plans to Thailand in the immediate future.

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Background synopsis

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(updated 2 October)

The situation remains calm in Bangkok with limited military presence on the streets surrounding Government House and other key buldings. Martial law remains in place, several announcements have been made by the renamed Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM), including the banning of public gatherings and protests. Apart from token arrests of a small band of anti-coup protestors, no incidents have been reported and Bangkok and the rest of the country appears to be going about business in a normal way. There is much less of a military presence on the streets as the coup leaders establish a sense of security. Newspapers are lauding the remarkably peaceful and orderly change of leadership and seem positive about the situation and immediate future. There has been no resistence from the population at large, other than small protests from rights groups calling on the CDRM to recind a ban on public gatherings.

At this point the British Foreign Office has warned Britons to stay away from key government sites, The Australian Government has revoked its warning against all travel to Thailand and the US State Department has not made any announcement discouraging travel to Thailand.

British Foreign Office online travel advisory
US Department of State online travel advisory
Australian Government Smarttraveller travel advisory

News

Statements from the military Administrative Reform Council: (19 September).

"We have seized power. The constitution, the senate, the house of representatives, the cabinet and the constitutional court have all been terminated," he said.

"We agreed that the caretaker prime minister has caused an unprecedented rift in society, widespread corruption, nepotism, and interfered in independent agencies, crippling them so they cannot function.

"If the caretaker government is allowed to govern it will hurt the country."

"They have also repeatedly insulted the king. Thus the council needed to seize power to control the situation, to restore normality and to create unity as soon as possible."

Developments (21 September)

Within a day of the coup, the Administrative Reform Council have held a press conference for diplomats and journalists, promising a civilian leader and interim government will be appointed within two weeks, which will be responsible for undertaking a constitutional reform process leading to fresh elections within a year. They also said disposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is free to return to Thailand but will be treated like an ordinary citizen.

Meanwhile the coup has been widely condemned by nations around the world, but a Dusit poll conducted in Thailand has indicated that 84% of those questioned approve of the coup to oust the prime minister.

Statements and developments (26 September)

The Administrative Reform Council has been renamed the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM). Decrees have been issued temporarily banning public gatherings, or protests, all political party activity is to be suspended for the time being and heads of media have been requested to censor certain reports of public opinion until the situation is entirely under control.

Apart from monitoring the movements of certain key members of the old government loyal to the ousted prime minister, there have been no detainments or arrests. Army generals previous loyal to Thaksin have been rounded up peacefully and transferred to inactive posts. Thaksin, now in London on a private-civilian visit, has called for prompt elections and says he is ‘taking a much needed break’.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) an informal group responsible for the massed protests aimed at getting Prime Minister Thaksin to step down, has voluntarily disbanded, stating that its goal has been achieved. This has diminished the chance of street protests and confrontations.

Update 26 September

An interim constitution and interim prime minister have been promised ‘within a day or two’, but the junta has asserted that it will remain in place alongside the civilian government to ensure law and order remains and avoid a situation of power abuse by the new temporary government.

The CDRM has approached several respected Thai diplomats and candidates both locally and abroad in search of possible candidates for an interim Prime Minister and seem to be committed to their pledge to install a temporary civilian government within two weeks of the coup. The Auditor General has been instructed to continue work on investigating ongoing corruption cases involving the previous government and initial investigation of assets and wealth of member of the Thaksin government have commenced.

Tanks have been removed from the Royal Plaza, no resistence has been reported from members allied to the Thaksin government and former minister who were abroad at the time have returned to Thailand without being detained. Pressure remains from the EU and US Governments to restore democratic instutions as soon as possible.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has reported that the impact to the forthcoming tourism season has been marginal. Hotel booking sites have reported that after a lull in reservations for several days after the coup, bookings are again brisk and hotels are rapidly filling up for December.

Civilian rule returns 1 October

The military junta, named the Council for Democratic Reform (CDR – briefly known as the CDRM), has followed through on its pledge to appoint a civilian government within two weeks of the coup that occurred on September 19th to seize power from the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. The new interim Prime Minister of Thailand will be General Surayud Chulanot, a retired former army chief who now serves on the Privy Council. He is considered to be a neutral figure, widely recognised and described as competent, , fair and incorruptable. General Surayud has promised to have a full 35 member cabinet in place within a week.

Meanwhile the CDR have drafted an interim constitution that has been royally endorsed and creates the framework for the the interim government and various law enforcement structures to operate. It still gives considerable power to a newly formed Council for National Security (CNS) which now replaces the CDR and will oversee the appointment of a 2000 member National Assembly representing all walks of life, which is responsible for nominating 200 candidates among themselves as a shortlist for a Consitutional Drafting Committee. The 1997 Constitution was suspended after the coup and was scheduled anyway for a reform process prior to the coup events. A eventual 35 member Constitutional Drafting Committee will be appointed, including 20 from the shortlist and 10 appointed by the CNS.

In other developments, tanks have been removed from the streets of Bangkok and limited soldier presence remains, although not visible in tourist areas outside of Bangkok. Tourism forums report that bookings have now returned to the same levels prior to the coup. In a move to justify their reasons for over-throwing the Thaksin government the CDR have continued with their rapid pace to investigate corruption and misuse of state funds by members of the previous government, but have been deliberate in letting the existing justice system draw conclusions.

The news attention has now shifted to the opening of Bangkok’s new airport, Suvarnabhumi – considered the world’s most modern. After a reasonably chaotic first few days the airport is now fully functioning and adds an important new dimension to the Kingdom’s tourist infrastructure.

Background Synopsis

The Thaksin government is deeply unpopular with the urbanites and middle-class, seen as unusually corrupt and unaccountable, and having systematically perverted the democratic checks and balances over the past five years. They have also been accused of growing unusually rich, but remain popular with the rural poor for introducing a series of populist policies to improve their prosperity. This helped them win a landslide victory in 2005.

After calls for Thaksin to disassociate his business interests from his governing mandate, he sold his telecoms empire to Singaporean investors in January 2006 for US$1.94b, but in a lapse of judgement he undertook a last-minute offshore change of ownership, which helped avoid a 25% tax bill. That tipped the scale and resulted in massive protests in Bangkok.

Thaksin responded with a snap poll to gain a fresh mandate, but all opposition parties promptly boycotted, claiming that the 30 days notice was insufficient to campaign. His TRT party was subsequently caught cheating (with collusion from the election commission) in the poll process to legitimise the result. the King stepped in declaring it 'a mess' and the Supreme Court subsequently annulled the election after careful deliberation. With celebrations looming for the King’s 60th anniversary on the throne, Thaksin went on TV promising not to seek a third term, as a conciliatory measure to heal a much divided nation.

However, he has since changed his mind, and as caretaker prime-minister has further meddled with the democratic process to protect himself (without PM immunity he will almost certainly be prosecuted for several violations), and was running in the new election set for October. An assassination attempt on his life three weeks ago - blamed on an army faction - was widely believed to be a set up. The military had had enough and waited for him to attend the UN annual conference in order to oust him.

Early reports suggest that the decision to execute the coup may have been made at ‘the 11th hour’, as a last resort after it was allegedly discovered that pro-Thaksin supporters were planning a violent disruption of a large anti-Thaksin protest scheduled for Wednesday the 20th. It is thought that this was a planned pre-text to declare a state of emergency in order to silence dissatisfied army factions that have been deliberately sidelined in the recent annual military reshuffle. With coup rumours abounding and Thaksin out of the country, it has been suggested by politial observers that a last minute ‘self engineered’ coup was planned to help the prime minister consolidate his power among an increasingly divided military.

Prior to the coup, Thaksin and his government continued to enjoy popularity among the rural poor, and the TRT party was expected to win the forthcoming election with a diminished majority. However, a much needed reform to the constitution, to eliminate vote buying, media manipulation by the government, and create a more impartial senate is seen as critical to the country’s political future. The present era of governing has become known for its ‘money politics’, where corruption, cronyism and poor ethical judgement have become widespread.

Behind the scenes the country continues to go about its business, remaining relatively stable. But the impact on economic growth this year has been significant, and large ongoing protests have pitted urban Thai against the rural folk, causing much division in society. Opponents widely view Thaksin as the catalytic factor in this and a well supported Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has been campaigning for him to leave politics, while respecting the rule of democracy. Thailand’s military remains powerful and the country has a long history of coup attempts (18 since 1932).

Above all this the king remains a stabilising factor, and although he seldom openly gets involved in politics, he wields power through his enormous respect from the entire population. If he does act, it is almost always for the overall good of the nation, and his tacit support for this coup has meant that most Thais have accepted the outcome.

More information:

The Bangkok Post
The Nation
BBC News, Asia Pacific




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