Gavan Hogue. Quo Vadis Thailand?

Thaksin undoubtedly engaged in some corrupt activities. Whether he was more corrupt than the other mob is hard to say but he did get the numbers by actually doing something for the poor peasants especially in the depressed areas of the north and northeast. His critics accuse him of pork barreling but that is a well established democratic procedure. Whatever his motives, he did actually do something to improve the lives of the poor and they voted for him in droves.

The Bangkok establishment takes the view that democracy is mob rule and the unwashed masses really need their betters to look after them. No doubt theBangkok elite is better educated and more sophisticated than the rural masses but essentially what they are arguing for is oligarchy. They believe that peasants with dung between their toes should not be allowed to decide who runs the country. So if you want to point the finger, the blame must surely be put squarely on the yellow shirts who refused to accept the election result. Their claim to represent the king is nonsense because the king is just as revered in the countryside by the red shirts.

The army is a vehicle for the poor to get an education and rise in status so there would be many in the lower ranks who sympathise with the peasants. The top echelons tend to identify with the conservatives but there is at least some potential for differences of opinion within the army. It is probably too early to be sure what the army is going to do. Ideally, they should supervise free elections soon and support whoever wins. This could happen but may not. We just have to wait and see. To be fair, the armed forces did stay out of things for a long time while the civilian politicians and their supporters squabbled.

The role of the King is unclear. The army says he has given them a mandate but we have only their word for that. It is obvious that the King is sick but it is not clear just how much he is able to exercise control over events as he has done in the past.

In short, we should not jump to firm conclusions just yet. Coups are nothing new to Thais but there does seem to be more public opposition to this one than in the past. There is the potential for major clashes between the army and demonstrators which could lead to deaths but full scale civil war is unlikely. Compromise is much more in the Thai character.

There is not much Australia can do except keep our options open and watch developments. Public denunciations and sanctions are not helpful. If we have anything to say it should be done privately. The Government has so far been careful to avoid public comment and this is wise.

Gavan Hogue is a former Australian Ambassador to Thailand.

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