Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thailand's Big Issue: Coup-Coup Rumours

A bunch of tanks drove down the street last Sunday night, which could only mean one thing to some people.

NOT THIS TIME / A soldier guards Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue following the 2006 coup three years ago.

The army called it a minor public relations boo-boo, that the generals didn't put out a press release that some tanks and armoured cars were being pulled back from the South to repair sheds in Pathum Thani province for maintenance, and there was no question of a coup d'etat.

There was just one problem with this _ that's what they would say anyway. It is the line the army has used before every coup since 1962, including the disastrous coup of 2006. It took down the Thaksin government and proceeded to run the worst administration of the country in memory.

So, with its denials effectively meaningless, the opposition had the chance to make political hay while the public could only wring its hands. The Stock Exchange of Thailand index tanked, but that was just part of what was a very bad week for both the government and the military.

The coalition partners split with the ruling Democrats, putting government survival on the clock (see Winners, below).

The rogue Maj Gen Khattiya ``Seh Daeng'' Sawasdipol may have been on the verge of a spectacular crash-and-burn mission, but last week he succeeded in making army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda look powerless _ and frustration has led many a general to reach for the coup-coup clock. (see Losers, below).

And the red shirts, as always, were there to prod the army and opposition and even take a shot at the Supreme Court panel currently deliberating the case to seize Thaksin's billions.

The army spokesman had it right when he said that coups were out of fashion, that the 2006 putsch had proved that the military could not handle problems that politicians should solve. And again, that was what army chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin said just weeks before he overthrew Thaksin and parked tanks on the streets of Bangkok.

There is no doubt that another military coup would be disastrous for the nation's image, bring actual trade sanctions from parts of the Americas and Europe, and send terribly skittish foreign investors running for the wings.

None of this has stopped coup-makers in the past, of course. The army still has the means to seize power, and there are no signs of a political leader who intends to take those means away.

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