By Tarushi Varma:
Thailand is facing a major political crisis, with its failing constitutional monarchy it is now under direct control of the military. Media is calling it a ‘Military coup’- But here comes the interesting part, it’s NOT the country’s first.
Here are a few pointers that will walk you through what is really happening.
1. A grim history
Thailand has had a vast history of political turmoil. It has a functional monarchy along with a parliament and Prime Minister as the head of government working by a constitution. It has been facing instability with over 20 prime ministers and around 20 attempts at military coups, out of which about 12 have been successful in the past eight decades.
The last military coup happened in 2006, where the military was in charge for about a year till the elections of 2007. However at present, the country has a monarchical head, King Bhumibol and had a Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was forced to step down from her seat in 2006. Since then she has been living in a self imposed exile.
2. Things that led to the latest coup
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, and the present king Bhumibol has been in power for over 60 years, but his health is now fast deteriorating with news of recent illness. This leaves the royalty of Thailand with a pressing question as to who will succeed the king. The power to name the next monarch lies with a rather frail parliament with an exiled Prime Minister.
But there is another section of the civilians which support the democratic way of governing and want the very popular Yingluck ShinawatraÂ to come back to power – who was forced to step down from her seat as prime minister after the coup of 2006 accused of ‘Abusing’ her political powers as the Prime Minister.
3. A divided country
And hence, Thailand can be found in a state of aperture. On one side, the wealthy capitalists, retired generals and royalists support the monarchy and the king, a fair fraction of the poor and the middle class support the democracy and want to fight for their right to vote for a Prime Minister.
This clear gap in the thinking of the population has resulted in wide spread protests and street violence. The police have had to intervene and often the scene became brutal, and resulted in death of many innocent civilians. Nevertheless, civilians continue to protest.
4. The hidden power struggle
Behind the gruesome picture of the protests and much talk about elections, a power struggle goes on undetected. Since the present king is feeble, and the parliament faces a choice of picking out the new King, it can be easily manipulated by the many influential royalists who would benefit under the next king for many years for their conspiracies. On the other hand, there is information supporting the alliance of Yingluck ShinawatraÂ and the king’s son Prince Vajiralongkorn, who, if in power can rule Thailand for many years, seizing the power from many.
But the gamble here is more risky than imagined, as huge riches are at stake. The king is a wealthy man with the royal fortune of almost $30 billion. Therefore whoever succeeds the king shall automatically inherit this fortune. And hence the struggle for power continues viciously among the rich, and the poor are left to fight for their right to vote amongst all the political maneuvers.
5. Suppression of media
The unfair judgment of the Prime Minister stepping down did not sit well with Shinawatra’s supporters and hence led to large protests. But the ground reality was often left out of media reports as the Thailand law prohibits any criticism against the royal family and the truth cannot be expressed without shedding a bad light on the monarchy. Even the military is forbidding the media to publish any article or interview covering the ongoing coup and the latest buzz of the political games. Consequently, oppressing the freedom of media and taking away their right to freely express themselves.
6. Future of Thailand
Historically it has been seen that the military has never acted as an efficient buffer between the two protestant sides of the Thailand population and more than once sided with the monarchy and completely subverted the democracy. It does not plan to remain in power, but wants to oversee a political reform in the country. But with its inability to serve as an effective intermediary, Thailand could be at the brink of a civil war.
But if the politically strong confer, the solution of the present disarray could be found and a nasty bloodshed can be prevented, spearing many lives.
In conclusion, hope for Thailand lies in negotiation, if the royal elite of Thailand can drive a bargain in favor of democracy only then can the country progress. Otherwise, it faces a major threat of civil war and violence, which might rip the nation apart.
UPDATE:Â The name of the Prime Minister of Thailand was wrongly mentioned as Thaksin ShinawatraÂ and has now been corrected toÂ Yingluck Shinawatra.