Military face to Thailand's
civilian rule By Marwaan
BANGKOK - If democracies can
be built with military precision, then Thailand's
coup leaders are making the right moves. On
Monday, they withdrew tanks and troops from the
rain-soaked streets of the capital, well before
their own two-week deadline.
The army has
also kept other promises made after the September
19 bloodless coup, in which twice-elected
caretaker prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was
deposed while abroad. It has
moved into the background
after producing an interim constitution and
installing as the country's 24th premier, Surayud
Chulanont, who will direct national affairs while
the country transitions back toward democracy.
Over the next year, Surayud's government
will move toward drafting a new and more permanent
constitution and hold elections by October 2007,
according to a timeline drafted by the junta that
was presented to foreign correspondents in
Still, the junta, which has
renamed itself the Council for National Security
(CNS), is coming under close scrutiny and a
measure of skepticism. First there is the issue of
Surayud’s appointment to the premiership. The
63-year-old career soldier - a military reformer
and a highly respected professional soldier - is
being questioned over his legitimacy and
commitment toward civilian-led democratic
processes. General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the coup
leader, was previously Surayud's subordinate in
the armed forces.
More troubling perhaps
is the authority the CNS has lent itself in the
new interim constitution to check the powers of
the prime minister and play a role in the drafting
of a permanent new charter. As head of the CNS,
Sonthi also has the power to remove the prime
minister and appoint a new one. The CNS also has
granted itself the power to appoint a 250-member
National Legislative Assembly (NLA), including its
chairman and deputy.
yet-to-be-established body will oversee the
appointment of a 2,000-member National Assembly
(NA), for which the junta's final endorsement is
necessary. The NA, according to the military
rulers, will select a 100-member drafting
committee to shape Thailand's 18th constitution.
Little wonder that Western diplomats, many
of whom expressed reservations soon after the
coup, are now airing renewed concerns.
looks like this interim constitution gives too
much power to the CNS," a senior European diplomat
said at a seminar that looked at the causes and
consequences of the coup held at Bangkok's
Chulalongkorn University. "This is not very
reassuring. The interim government is also under
Thailand cannot ignore the
impact of negative international opinion, said a
Bangkok-based Asian diplomat. "This country has
been engaging with the global economy, and
international opinion is very important. But there
are other shades of opinion."
academics opposed to the coup have been harsher in
condemning recent political developments. "This is
a step backwards. It is an illegitimate
government," said Giles Ungpakorn, a Marxist
political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.
"Nobody will be fooled about its democratic
legitimacy. "What is pathetic is that the
junta appointed a military man as prime minister,"
he said. "This confirms the dark shadow of the
military junta over Thai politics."
Respected civil-rights lawyers are also
sounding alarm bells. "Section 34 [of the new
constitution] allows the CNS to attend a cabinet
meeting to jointly consider problems. I don't know
by whose request this provision is written, but if
it is the wish of the [junta], it is not clever,"
wrote former senator Thongbai Thongpao in a recent
newspaper commentary. "It spoils the pledge of
non-interference in the civilian administration."
Surayud certainly had such skepticism in
mind when he delivered his first speech as prime
minister. "I realize I have accepted the position
as the leader of the administration without going
through the electoral process. I came by
appointment to resolve political problems," he
said on Sunday after his appointment.
future will be better and power will be returned
to the people," said Surayud, who since leaving
the army has served as a member of the elite Privy
Council, which advises the country's monarch, His
Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
same time, middle- and upper-middle class Thais,
including former judges, retired diplomats,
human-rights activists, journalists and academics,
are coming out in droves to defend the junta and
The coup "is a change for the
better for Thai democracy and democratization",
said former Constitutional Court judge and
academic Suchit Bunbongkarn. "If democracy fails
to resolve very important questions in society,
then Thais agree to allow coups to happen,
provided there is a good intention of the coup
Suchit, like other prominent
members of the Thai intelligentsia, stands firm
behind the rationale trotted out by the coup
leaders to justify deposing the Thaksin government
- including charges of corruption, undermining
independent institutions and offending the
monarchy. They have also said the coup was a
preemptive measure to save the country from
violence between pro- and anti-Thaksin groups.
For now it seems most Thai citizens are
willing to agree with General Winai Phattiyakul, a
ranking member of the junta and secretary general
of the CNS, who told foreign correspondents: "We
are not going to intervene or get involved in the
administration. The armed forces are quite
professional. We are ready to accept orders from
the civilian government."