Thailand: Persuasion Fail

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May 23, 2018: A growing number of Thais believe the military is trying to establish itself as a permanent supreme political power. Since the 2014 coup, the military government has enacted 298 new laws and issued over 500 technically legal orders, many of them connected with this effort to establish a permanent military veto over elected governments. To this end, the military is establishing mutually beneficial relationships with major corporations as well weapons suppliers from China and the West (especially the United States). The generals are also running a widespread public relations campaign to depict themselves as champions of various popular causes (rural poverty, achieving peace in the Moslem south, curbing corruption). The problem with this approach is that a majority of Thais still see the military as corrupt and seeking to grab power the general are not entitled to according to Thai laws, customs and traditions. Moreover, four years of military rule are seen as a failure and no amount of media manipulation can change that.

There have been eleven military governments in the last four decades and 19 coups or attempts since 1932 (plus seven attempts that failed). The monarchy tended to remain neutral in these disputes but clearly favored democracy over a military dictatorship. The royal family, the Chakaris, were founded by a general who seized the throne in 1782 partly to bring peace in a time of great chaos. Since then the Chakaris have survived by avoiding stupid mistakes. That may be changing as the current military government is creating more problems than it is solving and Thais fear the new (since 2017) king will be the opposite of his father and end up being one of the “bad kings” and perhaps even the 10th and last king of the Chakari dynasty.

In October 2016 the 9th Chakari king Bhumibol died at 88 after a record 70 year reign. His successor made a deal with the military to expand royal power in exchange for not interfering with military efforts to obtain veto power. Most Thais believe king Bhumibol would have never tolerated this if only because it was his father that agreed to a constitutional monarchy in 1932 and established a very beneficial (for the monarchy and most Thais) new form of government. Back in 1932, the army persuaded the king to give up absolute power and avoid a civil war. Since then there has been a constitutional monarchy and the military has considered itself the guardian of the monarchy. But the monarchy did not encourage military government and the current one is trying to make it easier for coups to happen in the future. Most Thais are tired of coups and have demanded reforms to curb the ability of the military to take over. Trimming the power and influence of the military has not been easy and in early 2014 there was yet another military takeover “for the good of the country.” After 2014 the generals realized they had to destroy the ability of political parties to curb military and royal power. The majority of Thais oppose this effort to curb democracy. As long as this dispute remains unresolved the risk of civil war grows.

May 22, 2018: This is the fourth anniversary of the coup that put an increasingly unpopular military government into power. The military has outlawed any demonstrations to protest the military.

May 21, 2018: The military government arrested eight members of the elected government they forcibly removed in 2014. Three of those arrested had openly discussed mistakes the military government had made since 2014 and the other five were charged with participating in a banned political activity (preparing for new elections). These arrests are a response to increased public unrest over delays in restoring democracy. The arrests came after 500 demonstrators (for democracy) in the capital were surrounded by 3,000 police and forced to disperse. The protestors were demanding a vote this November, not in 2019. The military has delayed elections several times since 2014.

May 20, 2018: In the south (Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla provinces) Islamic terrorists placed bombs near 14 ATMs and banks and most of them went off. This was the beginning of Ramadan (the annual Moslem holy month) and for over a decade Thai Islamic terrorists do things like this to mark the beginning of Ramadan. The bombs were small and three people were wounded. The expanded (in the last few years) use of security cameras yielded the picture of a known separatist terrorist planting some of the bombs. The suspect had known associates and the police are still seeking to make arrests.

May 19, 2018: A U.S. Navy ship arrived to participate with Thai forces in the Pacific Partnership exercises. These have taken place since 2006 to improve the ability of naval forces to assist in dealing with natural disasters. This was the first time the Pacific Partnership exercise was held in Thailand. In February there was an even larger joint training event when 6,800 American troops (twice as many as 2017) showing up for the annual Cobra Gold joint exercise. This year 29 nations sent troops to participate or observe. Since 1982 Thai and American troops have held Cobra Gold each year. Usually, the event is held in Thailand and over the years has come to include troops from other countries in the region. Two months after the 2014 Cobra Gold exercise the Thai military staged their coup.

May 15, 2018: In the last week the military government issued new orders to military trainers to strictly enforce guidelines for disciplining new recruits. There was to be no excessive violence used. In 2017 this violence became a major issue because of two families suspicious of how their sons died while undergoing military training. The military investigated and reported that one case involved a teenage officer cadet who died from apparently being bullied by fellow cadets. The other incident involved a conscript who died during training. Further investigation concluded the death was from natural causes (perforated ulcers) not a beating. But many former conscripts admit that it was common practice for trainers to sometimes inflict brutal punishments. Thus the new announcement from the military and there will be more until the problem is no longer a media issue.

Another military move was to back away from their effort to establish a new village in Narathiwat province for the many Islamic terrorists who had accepted amnesty and surrendered. Local residents feared that putting so many former terrorists in one place would surely lead to more trouble for the neighbors. So the army backed off and sought another way to resettle the former Islamic terrorists, especially the hundred or so that returned from exile in Malaysia.

May 4, 2018: In the south (Narathiwat) Islamic terrorists planted three bombs in an effort to disrupt the electricity supply. That failed, in part because one of the bombs failed to go off and was disabled. In nearby Yala province another group of Islamic terrorists damaged two cell phone towers.

May 2, 2018: China announced that it is expanding its weather satellite coverage to all countries participating in the Obor (One Belt, One Road) project (by allowing China to build roads, railroads, pipelines and ports) and will share weather information with those nations. This is a big deal with many nations participating in Obor, especially those who lack the money to have their own dedicated weather satellites. Thailand, Pakistan, Nepal, and Burma are all Obor participants and will benefit from regular access to the weather and land management (for farming, flood control and so on) information the expanded Chinse satellite network will provide.

 

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