Monday, November 06, 2006

This Day Editorial

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The Coup in Thailand

With the wind of freedom and democracy blowing across the world, coups d'etat have become anathema. In reality, however, coups still happen now and then to topple elected governments. Just last month, a bloodless coup occurred in Thailand toppling the government of Thaksin Shinawatra while he was away in New York attending the 61st session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Thaksin is now seeking refuge in the United States and probably may not return to his country in the near future.
No doubt, the coup in Thailand is a big setback for constitutional democracy in that country. For fifteen years, Thailand had not experienced any coup, a record of some sorts. Only last year the country organized the biggest election in Thai history, which brought Thaksin to power. It is thus surprising that in so short a time, his government has been overthrown.

On the surface, the case of Thailand happens to be one of those countries whose internal dynamics make military intervention almost inevitable, even when not desirable. Because of the prevailing global abhorrence for military dictatorship, some elected leaders have taken the licence to unleash their own brand of tyranny on their people. Instead of defending democracy, they promote activities to undermine it.

That was the problem that contributed to the ugly situation in Thailand culminating in a coup. To begin with, the election which brought Thaksin to power was adjudged to have been massively rigged. For the first time in Thai history, a single party, Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai, won a landslide in a swirl of controversy.
No sooner after Thaksin came to power than the country started sliding backwards with the escalation of corruption. King Bhumibol, the Head of State, refused to perform his constitutional duty of recognising Thaksin as prime minister on the basis of the controversial election that brought him to power, thus creating serious credibility problems for the government. On top of all that, charges of nepotism were soon preferred against him. One of the charges is that he singled out some members of the military for promotion in order to strengthen his tenuous hold on power. This very act angered the Thai military, providing one of the reasons for the takeover on September 19.

Even in the face of all this, we consider the Thai coup unacceptable. All told, the issues should have been resolved by the Thai people themselves through such democratic institutions as the parliament and the legal system rather than through the corrosive imposition of military dictatorship. For a country that has experienced not less than 18 coups d'etat in a region afflicted with a rash of military takeovers, the Thai putsch could become contagious. That is why the international community should have taken steps to make the Thai military to reverse itself as was the case in Sao Tome and Principe a couple of years ago.

As it is, the new Thai leaders had earlier promised to hand over power within two weeks but failed to keep to what was obviously an unrealistic promise. The global challenge now is to make them to keep to their new promise to hand over power, six months from now. It will be setting the hands of democracy back if they are corseted like Musharraf of Pakistan by the West.

But I ask; Is the wind of freedom and Democracy truly blowing across the world? Can this be said to be true for Nigeria, the Middle East and even America? You tell me what you think.

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