THE DEAD HAND OF THE PAST
Following the traumatic October coups in 1973, 1976, and 1977, each so different from the others, Thailand gradually regained a kind of balance over more than thirteen years. Many other nations, if overwhelmed by similar political chaos, might have found this difficult to do. But it was still a balance subject to the will and sometimes the whim of the military, and not the democratic middle that Seni Pramoj has long had in mind.
In retrospect, many Thais and others were indulging in wishful thinking when they dared to believe, once the crunches of the 1970s were more than a decade behind them, that military coups were a thing of the past. When army generals again overthrew a legally constituted, democratically elected government in February 1991—even one whose leader had continually taunted them—the anachronistic arrogance of the Thai military was exposed once more. "If we want to have democratic rule," said Anand Panyarachun, the respected civilian who was appointed interim prime minister, in words that might have come out of Seni's mouth, "we have to earn it."
Thailand's economic and educational levels have kept rising, in the last seven or eight years faster than ever. Except during the year following the early 1991 coup, political parties have been allowed to compete against each other. But at least until mid-1992, the public faces of generals, active and retired, remained paramount in government that reached into all corners of national life, as it did under the old kings. No matter how pluralistic and fast-paced Thai society becomes—indeed, because of its progress in other fields—it risks international condemnation and ridicule if strutting military types can interfere for their own meaningless purposes any time they wish.
Seni was correct about Thais avoiding violence if they can. He was right to think that after the student uprising in 1973 the military establishment could no longer ignore public opinion, even if it had