Thailand has an impressive track-record in the department of political coups. There has, in the country’s democratic history (since 1932) been 18 more or less successful coups in Thailand.
For this reason, whenever there is political instability, Thai media and followers of Thai politics very quickly start using the word “coup”. Will there be a coup? Will the military stage a coup?
With the current situation in Thailand, we certainly have all the components:
An angry mob in the streets – since November 2013, anti-government protesters have camped out in the streets of Bangkok, demanding that the government step down and the entire system be reformed. That could cause a coup.
A political divide –the current government and the opposition does not agree even on the basic democratic framework. The current government aims for elections – the opposition will actively obstruct any attempt to hold an election, unless there is a reform first. That too could cause a coup.
And lastly there is an all-round disrespect for the citizens and their right to co-decide what happens to their own country. What happens on the political scene today in Thailand is entirely a power struggle in between opposing elites. Top dog power struggles are the main ingredient in coups.
But despite all the political factors lining up we won’t have a classic coup in Thailand. Not this time.
What we MAY witness in Thailand right now is a whole new category: The Creeping Coup.
The Creeping Coup is a waiting game. Man, it’s slow!
It started all the way back in November 2013, when anti-government protesters started gathering in the streets of Bangkok, demanding the government step down. The protesters turned out to be surprisingly loud and stubborn – they put up roadblocks, built stages, erected tents everywhere, effectively shutting down most of central Bangkok.
With a capital that was largely ungovernable, and – it seemed – a never-ending stream of critical protesters pouring in from the south of Thailand, the Yingluck-government caved in and stepped down.
But it was already slowly becoming increasingly clear that that wasn’t the only thing the protesters – now formed into a form of political movement named People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) – wanted. They wanted their reform. So they stayed in the streets. And the government, excuse me, now the caretaker government, also stayed. For the next four months.
As the months went by, the numbers of the protesters dwindled. Now left with just a couple of small road-blocks, and an occupied park, the Creeping Coup went into the next phase:
In an impressive display of If-You-Can’t-Beat-Them-Join-Them, the opposition movement now started to use the very same system, they want reformed, to obtain their reform:
They started hurling lawsuits at the government. Lots of them.
The most substantial of those was the accusation of corruption within the government rice-scheme, a failed attempt to rake in additional foreign money by tampering with the global rice market. The National Anti-Corruption Committee just recently decided to impeach Yingluck Shinawatra over the issue, and the Senate will conduct thorough investigations on this matter.
Another recent one is the transfer of the chief of the National Security Council in 2011, Thawil Pliensri. A unanimous Constitutional Court voted caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of looking out for her own interests, when she gave the nod to the transfer, and that’s unconstitutional. She and nine ministers were ousted from government completely over the Thawil-case.
But the thing is, though, that Thailand’s different authorities are not all that impartial. The Constitutional Court, the Senate, the National Anti-Corruption Committee – these institutions are as much political players as the parties themselves are, but with the exception that they have juridical authority.
As of this writing, Thailand does not have an official government. Ten ministers, including the former Prime, have been ousted from their seats, there is no certainty how the next government will be put in place, Bangkok still has frequent mass-demonstrations AND the anti-government protesters still camp out in the streets of Bangkok, demanding their reform.
So there it is. Bit by bit, lawsuit by lawsuit, demonstration by demonstration, verdict by verdict, until there is no other way: The Creeping Coup.
Anya Palm, free-lance journalist based in Bangkok and NIAS Associate.