What do the junta really want?

 What do the junta really want?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn


It was obvious from the start that the aims of the military junta were not about a sincere attempt to restore peace between the two opposing sides in Thailand’s crisis. How could it ever be? The military were part of those who wanted to pull down the democratic system from the start.

They staged an earlier coup in 2006, wrote a new, less democratic, constitution and appointed half the senate and most of the members of the so-called independent bodies. They then worked with the judges to frustrate the wishes of the electorate by bringing down elected governments and installing the unelected Democrat Party government headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva and Sutep Tueksuban. When red shirts protested in their thousands and demanded free and fair elections in 2010, the current junta head, Gen Prayut Chan-ocha, ordered his troops to shoot down nearly 90 unarmed citizens in the streets. When Yingluk’s Pua Thai government was elected with overwhelming support from the people in 2011, against the expressed public wishes of Gen Prayut, the army sat back and did nothing while Sutep Tueksuban’s armed gangs roamed the streets, taking over government buildings and wrecking the February election.

But what exactly do the military want? They probably did not plan the present coup, but acted opportunistically when their allies among the Democrat Party thugs and the anti-democratic middle classes had created the right conditions to intervene. The military’s allies certainly wished for this coup, just like the yellow shirts had previously called for the coup in 2006.

The tin pot arrogance of the present junta, with their string of decrees, gross abuses of human rights and stupid “happiness” campaign, reminds me of the idiotic but brutal dictators Sarit, Tanom and Prapart from the late 1960’s. But surely, they cannot really be so stupid as to believe that they can turn the clock back, especially when Thai society has moved so far in the last 40-50 years?

Maybe Prayut and his crowd of fawning followers really are stupid, or maybe they are engaged in a huge gamble.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of Thais are angry and upset with the way their democratic wishes have been repeatedly trampled upon and the way that the conservatives have insulted them as being “too stupid to deserve the right to vote”. Many are also angry at the way the conservatives are creating obstacles to modernisation.

But maybe the junta are gambling on the idea that if they create a climate of fear, which they are doing, people will eventually become demoralised and inactive. This will not work if democracy activists get organised and continue a low intensity struggle which can break into a mass uprising again like in 1973, 1992 or 2010.

Taksin, Pua Thai and the UDD red shirt leadership are certainly trying to ensure that the red shirts remain inactive, hoping that one day they can make a political comeback, irrespective of the actual state of the democratic process. But the protests which were organised immediately after the coup were not under their control and many red shirts are angry with their poor leadership.

Even if the junta manage to force compliance and demoralisation on the majority of citizens, it will only be papering over the cracks in society. The roots of the crisis lie in the gross inequalities within society and the way that the majority of citizens feel politically marginalised while at the same time understanding that things should be better. When people regain their confidence to fight, the crisis will explode again and if people learn lessons from previous set-backs, they will demand the removal of the entire old order.

You will not be able to have such an analysis if you still believe that the crisis is just about the elites and the question of succession to the throne.