Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thailand Coup: For Better or For Worse?

Sources: Old-Fashioned Coup, Coup Leader to Restore Democracy, Thailand's Tarnished Tycoon

On the night of September 19, 2006, Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, general of the Thai army, instituted a coup d'etat and successfully ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from office. Today, Thailand's monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, announced his support for the new leadership. While currently running the country under martial law, General Sonthi and his Council for Administrative Reform have promised to bring democracy to Thailand and have stated that it is not their intent to remain in power, but to return the power to the people as soon as possible.

The coup was a reaction to what Gen. Sonthi and his followers view as widespread corruption, nepotism, and crippling of democratic institutions by Thaksin. Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon had been elected in 2001 by a landslide vote on a platform consisting of promises put his business savvy towards lifting Thailand out of the rubble following the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He sought to set up a "CEO-style" government that was fast, efficient, and flexible in its responses to economic issues. Despite steady economic growth in Thailand, Thaksin faced a backlash in support, particularly amongst minority shareholders who accused him of running the country like an archaic corporation rather than a modern one, where micro-management, secrecy, and iron-fist ruling by Thaksin are more reminiscent of despotism than democracy. Accordingly, corruption is pervasive within government institutions and beyond, much of which has put the economy of Thailand at risk as foreign investors expressed anxiety about the legally questionable decisions Thaksin has made regarding the sale of Thai companies to foreigners in violation of Thai foreign ownership laws. unhappy taxpayers started to call for his resignation earlier in the year.

The United States expressed disapproval about the military coup and urges General Sonthi to hold elections soon rather than put them off for the next year. Sonthi promised to step down in two weeks.

The coup resulted in a drop in the value of the Thai bhat, but it has since then steadied. In addition, stock prices have recovered nearly completely. Consequently, there has been emerging optimism that the coup may have broken the political stalemate that has left the country paralysed for the better part of a year.


1.) Will General Sonthi be able to install the rule of law in Thailand?
2.) What kinds of reforms will the government have to undergo in order to successfully establish a modern democracy?
3.) Will the new governance in Thailand allow it to compete better with Vietnam and other Asian countries on the global economic rise?

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