Monday, April 30, 2007

The Climate of Coups

Troops reading the paper on top of their tank the morning after last year's coup. The newpaper's headline reads 'สนธิยืนยัน' or 'Sonthi Confirmed' meaning that General Sonthi Boonyaratglin was confirmed as coup leader.

Since the September 19th 2006 toppling of Prime Minister Thaksin there have been consistent rumours that another coup d’etat is looming.

The following is a typical scenario of how new coup predictions emerge.

On February 5th The Nation newspaper was reporting on the speculation of a new coup.

Troops from Thailand’s Second Army stationed in Nakhon Ratchasima were rumoured to be on their way to Bangkok under the orders of a rogue military commander and the Junta leader, General Sonthi, was in full denial mode.

A well connected academic from Mahidol University called me that evening and reported that General Sonthi was seeking to consolidate power and would launch a coup against the junta's own installed government.

Apparently that is a bit of a Thai tradition when it comes to coup history here.

Another phone call from an acquaintance at a European news agency casually asked if I had seen large numbers of troops or heard any gunfire or loud explosions.

My apartment happens to be near the Information and Communications Technology Ministry – which controls broadcast media capabilities – so the question was not that far-fetched.

The next day, a journalist from Thailand’s I-TV called and reported that the event was more of a 'coup-lite’ because infighting in the junta almost erupting into open hostility but either a power-sharing compromise or a barrel-of-a-gun compromise had been reached before actual fighting began.

Although most people seem to agree that something happened, no one is sure exactly what that something was.

Mixed into coup prognostications are ongoing bomb threats.

On April 11th the Canadian embassy sent sms messages (mobile phone text messages) to their nationals claiming that "Canadians should exercise caution and monitor local news due to reports of possible bombings in and around Bangkok between 11-17 April."

The New Year’s Eve bombings, despite convincing evidence pointing to insurgents in the deep south, are still being blamed upon ‘elements of the old regime’ so the threat of fresh bomb attacks further fuels the climate of political instability.

The latest coup rumor began yesterday evening with a phone call from an academic asking if I had ‘heard anything of another coup?’

To which I replied; ‘Just the usual rumors, what have you heard?’

‘I heard from a friend with police contacts who claims that between the 1st and the 5th of next month (May) the police will be keeping their families at home and preparing to retreat at the sight of large military movements. They (the police) are convinced something is about to happen.’

On the night of the last-year’s coup the police did, indeed, retreat from sight as they are closely aligned with the previous government so the rumor does contain some intriguing details.

So, once again, the forecast is suggesting a high probability of political turmoil and chances of a coup.

Whether another coup is imminent will only be answered over the next week but the consistency of the rumours is an undeniable reflection of the turbulent political climate and the lack of confidence in the junta.

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