Many people are focused on the miserable coup in Myanmar though the U.S. had a brief brush with its own clear acts of insurrection on January 6, 2021. Nonetheless, Thailand has had 13 coups since 1932. The Thai Enquirer recently published an article entitled Grading Thailand Various Coups. Out of the 13 successful coups, they graded them with one A-, one D- and the remainder with varying levels of F. It is worth noting that there were many more unsuccessful attempted coups over those almost ninety years.
The first bloodless coup occurred in 1932 representing a turning point in the country’s history creating modern Thailand. A small group of military officers, civil servants and the intelligentsia forced King Prajadhipok to adopt a constitution and submit to the people’s rule. The move brought a close to some seven centuries of absolute monarchy and established a constitutional monarchy which prompted a Thai Enquirer rating of “A-.” In his speech abdicating his absolute power, King Rama VII said “I am willing to surrender powers I formerly executed to the people as a whole, but I am not willing to turn them over to any individual or any group to use in an autocratic manner without heeding the voice of the people.” Not only Thailand, but many other alleged democracies around the world, should remember those words of Rama VII. It is interesting to note below the military leaders were armed, while the civil servants dressed in white, carried axes. You will observe a Caucasian-appearing officer below, fourth from the left, who is most likely Prayoon Pamornmontri who is of German/Thai descent.
One year later, the military stepped in again to remove the first prime minister and then replace him with one more to their liking. A more extreme military purge occurred in 1939, to implement a fascist vision, illustrated below, and to expel the British colonizers from Asia though Thailand had never been colonized. Nonetheless, the Japanese quickly supported the Axis-leaning government to make Thailand a vassal state.
From 1947 to 1977 there were a succession of coups prompted by various generals vying for power and a comfortable seat at the table of wealth and influence in the Thailand dining hall. The United States, looking through the eyes of fear of the Chinese domino theory, supported anything that resulted in a strong anti-communist government.
However, anti-communist activities often focused on students who supported a more modern vision of democracy though, as shown below, many of them suffered and died in the meantime. Remember our old friend, Colonel Chang, was a leader in the Communist Suppression Organization of Thailand which had full support of the CIA. Chang paid no attention to the laws of Thailand and a CIA station chief once told me that “We are above the law.” Many leaders around the world may share that opinion but ultimately the people will find them accountable.
Economic prosperity in Thailand was initially fueled by the massive U.S. expenditures there during the Vietnam War. However, prosperity enabled many people to come to the bountiful economic table and there was an extended period of relative calm until one general overthrew another democratically elected government led by a former general in 1991. Well, political change can be good or bad and, in this case, one of the generals in the coup was a shareholder in my fledging Thai company.
You may recall that the coup was planned in the “Green Room of China House” – our favorite restaurant in Thailand and most any place. Therefore, no bureaucrats had their hands out when we secured an oil and gas concession in the Gulf of Thailand. Of greater importance is that an experienced civilian government was put in place rather than avaricious generals. Although the outcome of a coup might be beneficial, freely-cast ballots are far superior to the boots on the ground shown below. However, eventually the coup-leading general decided he should be the “prime minister” which followed the usual course of an unintelligible new constitution and election.
The coup of 2006 had an interesting, if not fatal, impact on one of my fanciful endeavors. The duly elected Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, left Thailand for a UN Summit in New York to be overthrown in a coup. I was in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia when a Thai friend called my hotel room early morning on September 19, 2006 to awaken me to turn on the Thai TV news channel showing Thai military tanks on the streets of Bangkok shown below. Therefore, the Prime Minister of Thailand and I learned of his removal from office at about the same time.
As I was in Mongolia at that time with a Thai delegation, one of them prepared to return home and ultimately become a minister in the new cabinet so he was pleased. On the other hand, I had been asked by Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart to support his campaign to become the Secretary General of the U.N. His request was not as strange as you might think as, through the major shareholders and partners of SOCO, we had considerable influence on not only the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council but also several of the ten rotational members. Nine votes are needed to nominate the candidate who is put forward to the General Assembly for a vote. Although Ban Ki-Moon of Korea was the favorite candidate, the theory was China might throw their vote to Thailand. Although Surakiart remained the Deputy Prime Minister, Ban Ki-Moon was elected Secretary General of the U.N. two weeks later following the coup. Dr. Surakiart had urged me to assume a key administrative role in the U.N. if he were successful in his campaign. However, when I saw the tanks on television, I kissed that “opportunity” goodbye.
Civilian protests in Thailand have once again reached a critical level in Thailand in an attempt to remove another re-tread military government that came to power in a 2014 coup. At this juncture, the protestors are also focusing on the powerful impact of the monarchy on Thai state of affairs. Therefore, the issues are somewhat more like those in 1932 though the military is lock step in alignment with the monarchy. The three-finger salute of the demonstrators shown below originated from The Hunger Games. The protestors ignore the banning of demonstrations by the government which have grown significantly in frequency and numbers. However, you will note that unlike Texas, the mask code follows the science and resultant rules of the pandemic.
To date, the Thai military and police have not fired into the crowds gathered in the streets which is unlike the practice of their neighbors shown below in Myanmar where wanton deaths have been climbing. At such time that might happen in Thailand, it will be game over for the generals who have the misguided impression that they can govern a country.