May be even more deadly.
Days after declaring Martial Law, Thai General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced a Military Coup on Thursday. Since then the Military has stationed troops in major cities, suspended the constitution, enacted a curfew, put a halt to both pro and anti-government protests, taken certain channels and media outlets out of circulation, and detained former PM Yingluck and members of her government. Classic Coup actions.
The Thai army says it will remain neutral and wants to enact certain reforms before holding elections. If this is indeed possible, this Coup could be less disruptive than previous Coups. The big question is what form will reforms take? Will they increase transparency and accountability, curbing the potential for future corruption? Or will they involve drastic legislative redistricting, in an attempt to marginalize the political voice of rural Thailand? Can the army orchestrate meaningful reforms while remaining a neutral intermediary between rival political parties?
The answers to these questions will likely determine how the Coup plays out. There is, however, something reassuring about the Thai army calling this a Coup, especially in comparison to Egypt’s “non-Coup”. By acknowledging this was in fact Coup, the Army is at least taking responsibility for what happens next in Thailand. We should not, for instance, expect a bloody crackdown as we saw in Egypt.
In a previous post, I emphasized the determinative role armed forces can play in regime change. All things equal, it is always best for the military to stay out of politics and focus on security and defense issues. But all things are not equal; countries face unrest for a variety of reasons, and this unrest can turn violent and often has adverse economic consequences, as it has in Thailand.
One could certainly question the necessity of this Coup, violence has not recently escalated and Prime Minister Yingluck agreed to step down 2 weeks ago. Economic deterioration seems to be the most obvious catalyst in this instance. Either way a Coup has occurred, and the focus now shifts to the actions of the Thai army.
If the Army is indeed committed to the things it says, it may be possible for a Coup to play a constructive role in Thailand’s political crisis. Last month the U.N. highlighted this constructive role security forces can play in peace efforts:
The United Nations Security Council today called on countries emerging from conflict and all those assisting them to prioritize the development of domestic police and national defence forces that maintain rule of law and respect human rights, in its first-ever stand-alone resolution on security sector reform.
Stressing that it is the sovereign right and the primary responsibility of the countries concerned to reform their security institutions, the Council, through the resolution, encouraged the UN and other international partners to strengthen their approach to training and other assistance, and to integrate it with other efforts to help rebuild national institutions.
Mr. Ban reaffirmed some of the principles of security sector reform outlined in his latest report on the issue, including the linkage between security efforts and broader processes of political and institutional reforms in the countries in question.
“Strengthening operational effectiveness must be combined with efforts to build a strong governance framework, robust accountability and oversight mechanisms, and a culture of integrity and respect for human rights. National ownership is imperative,” he said.
Security is a necessary prerequisite for stability, human development and economic growth. There is nothing inherently good or bad about security forces. They can restore order and champion principles of democracy, human rights, and rule of law, or they can kill with impunity. There is something very interesting and deeply psychological about the broad spectrum of roles armed forces can play in society–it is in many ways a microcosm of free will.
Thailand is not Egypt, there is no reason to think just because there was a Coup, that the human rights environment in Thailand will deteriorate as it has in Egypt. However, certain actions by the Thai army certainly raise eyebrows, such as imposition of a curfew and suspensions of press freedom. Also, the Thai military’s track record does not inspire confidence; perhaps today is a new day?
All we can do now is wait and see, and hope the Thai army backs up its neutral rhetoric with appropriate actions and reforms. Except more on this topic in the coming weeks.