Wednesday, September 20, 2006
All the news that's shit to print ...
I have mixed feelings about the military coup in Thailand.
On the one hand, deposed caretaker PM Thaksin Shinawatra is almost assuredly a crook. His dodgy business dealings are on record, as are his shenanigans in moving about his assets before he had to disclose them, as per the country's charter, to the Constitution Court upon being named Prime Minister the first go-round in 2001, when his Thai Rak Thai swept into power in a general election. I was living in Bangkok at the time, and it was the Thai political circus at its depressing best. Thaksin, head of telecommunications giant Shincorp, "divested" himself of a large chunk of his assets, "selling" or gifting them mostly to family members ... but also to his maids and chauffeur.
One day, you're driving a rich guy around, the next you're worth millions ... what a country!
Meanwhile, Thaksin's ultra-violent "War on Drugs" killed thousands in the countryside during its height in 2003. I have little doubt that the main effect of this rampage was to consolidate control of the lucrative methamphetamine trade in the hands of the biggest players and their police cronies, who were able to eliminate, in the most brutal way, their small-fish competition.
His escalation of the response to Muslim separatists in the South was similarly violent. And, like the War on Drugs, was popular with the Thai people at first ... until the corpses really started piling up and it became apparent that a solution to the trouble remained as elusive as it had ever been.
So, like Liberal Avenger, I'm not losing any sleep over what's been done to Thaksin.
On the other hand, as LA's commenter Gordo posits:
I think that in the long run, Thailand would be better off dealing with their criminal-in-chief the same way Italy dealt with theirs: by waiting for the next election and voting for his rival.Indeed. What Gordo says is true for any young democracy, and Thailand in particular seemed to be turning a corner. It had been 15 years since the last military coup - a very long time by Thai standards - and the 1997 Constitution (the "People's Charter") is considered the best framework for governance of the 16(!) that the country has had in 74 years as a constitutional monarchy.
It’s not nearly as satisfying, and the country does suffer for the time that the crook is in office, but it’s better than the constant cycle of coups and caretaker governments.
And while the king has been able to force the military junta to give up power in the past, some future king might favor a fascist takeover, much as Victor Emmanuel III granted his blessing to Mussolini.
Long, uninterrupted periods in which political transition is peaceful and democratic are crucial foundations for free nations, the rule of law and a vibrant civil society. Democracy doesn't spring fully formed from one election, or three ... or at the point of a gun, as everybody but Bill Kristol seems to understand.
So while everything Thailand built up, democracy-wise, in the past 15 years isn't completely gone, the country is now starting more closely to scratch than I think many people can immediately appreciate.
Finally, Gordo's point about Victor Emmanuel III is well taken. It's true that the current king of Thailand is as benevolent a head of state as one could hope for ... but he's getting on in years, and there is no shortage of anxiety about succession issues that will come sooner or later, and which will prominently involve the king's unsavory son.
And just because we are loathe to comment on anything - even something so close to the bone as the political situation in Thailand - without taking pot shots at wingnuts: Here's the realiably insane "Tits" McGee explaining how it's all the work of Islamofascists.