Giles Ji Ungpakorn
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 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.
The junta claimed that they had appointed a “civilian” Prime Minister. Commentators rushed to suck up to the new Prime Minister, General Surayud, by saying that he was a “good and moral man”. In fact, Surayud, while he was serving in the armed forces in 1992, was partly responsible for the blood bath against unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators. He personally led a group of 16 soldiers into the Royal Hotel which was a temporary field hospital. Here, his soldiers beat and kicked people. Three months after the 2006 coup, on the 4th December, the King praised Prime Minister Surayud in his annual birthday speech.
The new military appointed cabinet 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%. Pridiyatorn threatened to axe many good mass transit projects which could solve Bangkok’s traffic.
The poor, who form the vast majority of the Thai electorate, voted enthusiastically for the two flagship policies of Thai Rak Thai. 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.
Immediately after the coup, a coalition of young people sprang into action. Only two days after the 19th September, while armed troops were still on the streets of Bangkok, the “19th September Network against the Coup” organised the first of many illegal public demonstrations. Many people from different groups cooperated with the Network. Our slogans were simple: “No to Taksin and No to the Coup”.
Soon after the September coup, I published a book titled “A Coup for the Rich” . The book was given to the Special Branch by Chulalongkorn University, where I taught politics. This resulted in my exile in the UK to avoid charges of lèse-majesté. Many other Thais are now in exile abroad because of their political views.
The 19th September 2006 coup marks the beginning of the present period of political crisis and the destruction of democracy in Thailand.