by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
September 21, 2006
MILITARY COUP IN THAILAND 'WILL NOT LAST LONG'
BANGKOK, Thailand, Sept. 21 -- Thailand's army launched a bloodless coup Tuesday against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatr, who was attending the UN General Assembly in New York. The army has enforced martial law and suspended the democratic constitution of the country.
Armed soldiers with armored tanks could be seen around Bangkok, the capital of Thailand with over 10 million population. Offices, business and schools remained closed yesterday and life seems to be normal this morning.
An army statement issued after the coup said that Lieutenant General Sondhi Boonyaratglin, who is a Muslim in the Buddhist majority country, has taken control of the country. The army has repeatedly said that they are loyal to revered King Bhumibol, the longest reigning monarch in the world.
General Boonyaratglin has said that the army had seized power temporarily and suspended the constitution "but the sovereignty would be returned to the Thai people as soon as possible."
The army has not permitted the ousted Prime Minister to use the Thai Airways plane to return from New York to Bangkok, and instead forced him to go to London by chartering a Russian plane, one of the relatives of Shinawatra said here.
The majority in this tourist destination believe that the coup was orchestrated with the advice of the Buddhist King, who was not happy with the activities of Prime Minister Shinawatra.
"I think it is a plan to unseat Prime Minister Shinawatra, nothing more than that," Amanda Bomapariya, a businessman in Bangkok, told The American Reporter.
The Prime Minister had refused to follow the advice of King Bhumibol, who is revered by Thai people, said Prof. Sangsai Ayutha.
"The coup does not last long as the people just wanted to get rid of Shinawatra," he said. There was no reaction from the palace, which is heavily guarded by tanks and armed soldiers.
Shinawatra, a business tycoon, has been criticized by major opposition parties and the upper class elite for the last few months. Shinawatra was accused of taking benefits from the state for his telecom company, which was sold for more than one billion dollars to a company in Singapore. The move was unpopular among many Thais.
A majority of the people opposed the sale despite his popularity in the rural areas of the country. He was voted into office by a landslide majority two times in the past, but the election held last year was boycotted by major political parties, which charged that the election under Shinawatra could not be free and fair. The court invalidated the election and he became a "caretaker" prime minister until elections scheduled to be held next month.
However, Gen. Boonyaratglin, the coup leader, has said that the election will be held in October next year. "I will be the prime minister only for two weeks until a new prime minister is appointed," Gen. Boonyaratglin said.
Thai Television channels have been showing footage of the king and sang patriotic songs. The statement of Shinawatra, who declared a state of emergency from New York, was telecast by a local television channel but was stopped by the army.
Shinawara will be charged and prosecuted, Boonyaratglin said.
Minor demonstrations were reported to have staged by Thaksin supporters but they were detained.
However, life seems normal in this major tourist city of East Asia. Most of the business, schools and offices were closed yesterday and officials have said that they will open normally beginning today. Small businesses and hotels have been reopened since early this morning.
Thaksin's uncompromising nature with the opposition political parties, rampant corruption and suppression of media made him unpopular in the past, said a youth leader of an opposition party in Bangkok.
However, he said, a coup is not the solution. "[The] coup is unacceptable," he said. The image of the king, who is revered by the people, will be defamed if he has supported the military in staging the coup, he added. Many people in Bangkok are hopeful about the democratic prospects of Thailand and think that the coup is temporary, he said.
"Thaksin's government has totally failed to quell the violence, so we are pinning our hope on the Council of Administrative Reform," major media quoted Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political scientist from Prince of Songkhla University in the southern province of Pattani, as saying.
The coup took place only to oust Thaksin and the army cannot run the government under the gun, Aniparudda, a human rights activist, told The American Reporter.
"Coup is not the answer of the corruption and ineffective management of Shinawatra government," he said.
The coup has been criticised by several foreign governments including the United States, and human rights groups have opposed the overthrow of a popularly elected government.
The American government has denounced the coup and hinted that U.S. aid, military cooperation and improved trade relations might be in jeopardy.
"There is no justification for it," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said. "It is a step backward for democracy."
The words of former Prime Minister Chuan Likpai reflect the reality of Bangkok. "We do not support any kind of coup. Thaksin created several conditions that forced the military to stage the coup," he said.
No one here thinks that military rule can continue for long. Thailand has a history of military takeovers, which have occurred several times in the past under the patronage of the King. There were 23 attempted coups in the last 74 years. This is the first coup in the last 15 years.
Shinawatra, a business tycoon, was elected prime minister in 2001.
A military officer at Bangkok Airport told the American Reporter: "This is a temporary thing. I am an army officer but I do not think the military can run democratic Thailand," he said on condition of anonymity.
"I have to follow orders, that is all," he said when asked if he opposed the coup.