Thailand’s Future Without Military Coups?

Partyforumseasia:  In several Southeast Asian countries, English language  newspapers are normally supposed to be less dangerous than the vernacular ones. That is true in Thailand  like in other  countries with control-minded governments and a strong military behind it. The Bangkok Post, one of two big national newspapers in English, dared to publish a relatively friendly comment on 10 February about a “Thai dream”, a Thailand without military coups. Such a dream  wouldn’t be possible in many other countries for simply being unnecessary. (Link) 

Party leader Thanatorn (left) and secretary general Piyabutr


But Thailand, despite her friendly people and easy-going image abroad, has a rather dark record of military involvement in state matters and a long list of civilian governments toppled by the army. The first one, in 1932, changed the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. And since then, at least every five to six years, the Thai military staged a coup, most of them successful.
The recent transition to civil government, headed by former general and junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, is obviously not being taken at face value by considerable parts of the population, especially by the Future Forward Party (FFP) and its predominantly young voter base. In the 2019 election, 70 % of the first-time voters supported the FFP. So the “dream” of a Thailand without coups, promoted by co-founder and secretary general of the party, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, does make waves in the domestic debate. Khun Piyabutr was a professor for constitutional law at Thammasat University with an impressive list of publications, and is now a member of parliament and known as “chief ideologue” of the party. He suggests to start with a parliamentary panel to search for instruments to prevent coups. As a law expert he also wants changes to constitution and criminal code to prevent impunity for the coup leaders and repression against their victims, like imprisonment of politicians opposing the military involvement.

The Bangkok Post article by former editor Veera Prateepchaikul starts with caution, talking first about the defenders of the military: “It’s wishful thinking, an ideal that will never be achieved.” But his conclusion is the advice to be open-minded and think about possibilities to reach this so far elusive goal. With the wafer thin parliamentary majority and volatility of the ruling coalition recently slightly stabilizing, mainly due to party hopping MPs, Future Forward might evade the formal dissolution, its Damocles sword since the unexpected election success. The party’s leader, Thanatorn has already been stripped of the mandate he won last year, but Piyabutr is still in. His political career may depend on the perception of the Prayut government how dangerous he is or can be in the future.

Wolfgang Sachsenröder

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