Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The 19th September 2006 coup has caused immense damage to Thai society, resulting in 13 lost years when real progress towards a modern, free and just society could have been achieved. Instead, the conservatives and the military have managed to turn the clock back to the days of military dictatorships and entrenched privilege.
The major forces behind the 19th September coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy, although the King did not order it to take place. Most NGOs and large sections of the middle classes also supported the coup. What all these groups had in common was contempt or hatred for the poor. For them, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. For them, Thailand is still divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understand democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor”. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the poor who understand and are committed to democracy while the so-called middle classes are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.
For the last 13 years this reactionary coalition have continuously sought ways to undermine the democratic process and put Thai society into a “deep freeze” in order to protect their interests.
The military appointed cabinet in 2006 was stuffed full of neo-liberals. The Finance Minister, Pridiyatorn Devakul, was a man who believed in “neo-liberal fiscal discipline”. He was opposed to “too much spending” on public health. After the coup the Budget Bureau cut the budget for Thai Rak Thai’s universal health care scheme by 23% while increasing military spending by 30%.
These neoliberal free-market policies have continued under Prayut’s dictatorship. In contrast, Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai used a “dual track” economic policy, mixing “grass-roots Keyensianism” and market forces. Taksin’s aim was to develop and modernise Thai society by involving the poor as “stake holders”.
In the first elections after the 1997 economic crisis, the poor, who form the vast majority of the Thai electorate, voted enthusiastically for the two flagship policies of the Thai Rak Thai Party. These were a universal health care scheme (the first ever in Thailand) and a 1 million baht fund loaned to each village to encourage small businesses. Thai Rak Thai won a second term of office with an overall majority in parliament in 2005. It is easy to see why. The main opposition party, the Democrats, spent the whole four years attacking the health care system and other social benefits. They said that it contravened “fiscal discipline” and Tirayut Boonmi and Ammar Siamwalla echoed Margaret Thatcher in talking about “a climate of dependency” built up by “too much” welfare. Previously the Democrat government, which came to power immediately after the 1997 economic crisis, had used taxes paid by the poor to prop up the financial system. The banks were in crisis due to wild speculation by the rich which resulted in non-performing loans. The Democrats supported the 19th September 2006 coup because, according to deputy leader Korn Chatikavanij, “there was no constitutional” method of getting rid of Taksin. Korn then went on to praise Prime Minister Gen. Surayud, saying that the new appointed government was “not a military government”. He also said that he “respected” the junta for trying to establish political “stability”.
There was of course a very nasty side to the Taksin government which was overthrown by the coup. During their first term of office they waged a so-called “war on drugs” in which over 3000 people were shot without ever coming to trial. In the Patani they waged a campaign of violence against the Muslim Malay-speaking population. The government was also responsible for the murder, by the police, of defence lawyer Somchai Nilapaichit, who was defending people from the Patani.
The 19th September 2006 coup marks the beginning of the present period of political crisis and the destruction of democracy in Thailand. This situation will continue unless a mass social movement is built with the aim of expanding the democratic space and fighting for social equality.