Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Hijacking of Thai Democracy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Hijacking of Thai Democracy

Article excerpt

THE recent formation of the Thai government unmasked the ulterior motives of a military clique that took power in a February 1991 coup - disrupting Thailand's 14 years of democratic rule.

When the Thai military decided to undertake the coup, a fraternal group of generals invoked five justifications for commandeering the plane of then-Prime Minister Chatichai Cho- chavan and seizing authority from elected representatives. Through-out the interim period until the election on March 22, 1992, one justification after another was invalidated. The appointment on April 7 of Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon as the country's 19th prime minister finally confirmed what had all along been the military's hijack of Thai democracy.

Since the coup, the Thai military leadership - especially the generals who graduated from the national military academy in 1958 - shrewdly unfolded a grand design to institutionalize their power. Their first acts included the establishment of a panel to investigate the assets of previous Cabinet members and the appointment of a committee to draft a new constitution. The assets investigation revealed that many politicians could not explain the origins of their wealth, often millions of dollars. Yet a squad of those very same politicians has been allowed to manipulate its way back into parliament through vote-buying and are part of General Suchinda's cabinet.

To attain legitimacy, the military junta organized and co-opted two major political parties, full of ousted politicians including Narong Wong-wan, a candidate for the premiership until the US State Department exposed his links to drug trafficking. Nonetheless, he eventually settled for a deputy prime minister slot. The dubious wealth of these unscrupulous politicians was used to buy votes in Thailand's poorer regions. Consequently, the Chart Thai and Mr. Narong's Samakki Tham parties colluded to form the core of Suchinda's five-party coalition.

More deviously, the junta doctored the constitution-drafting process to ensure post-election power. Its chairman, Gen. Sunthorn Kongsompong, empowered himself to appoint the 270 senators who, on crucial budget bills and no-confidence motions, are bestowed equal powers with the 360 elected lower house members. …

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