Rumours swirled over this past weekend that a coup was imminent in Thailand. Military vehicles were spotted in the suburbs and army chief Apirat Kongsompong was silent when asked about the possibility.
The rumours have spread because of how uncertain the Thai political situation has become.
Student-led protests have gripped the country over the past two months with students calling for a rewrite of the military-drafted constitution and calling for a change of government.
It would not take observers completely by surprise if a coup were to happen.
Yet observers and analysts say that the possibility that a putsch was imminent was very slim. Here are four reasons why:
The first reason that a coup remains unlikely in the next few months is that the head of the army is due to retire at the end of September. Yes, the colourful and outspoken Apirat is due to retire this month and will likely take his place as head of some conservative institution or be appointed to the privy council. He will probably be given lucrative board positions in various private and state enterprises and will slither away into the sunset.
His likely successor, Narongpan Jitkawethae, will need some time to cement his position and bring his people into key positions before any coup can take place. Narongpan is seen as a more reclusive and analytical commander and any decision will be weighed and analysed. Rash decisions, like the ones Apirat is known to partake in, is likely not forthcoming.
That means a quick coup after army succession is unlikely.
Another reason that a coup is unlikely is because the government is currently holding the position of strength, not the students protesters.
The government coalition currently has a majority in parliament. This number is enhanced by the military-appointed senate. The government, or its military-backed predecessors, drafted the current constitution to entrench and enhance its rule.
The government is still in charge of the security forces including the police. The government also has a state of emergency in place allowing it to carry out actions it deems necessary to maintain ‘security.’
Protests have not hit critical mass
Let’s remember that before the 2014 coup and the 2006 coup, thousands of protesters had taken to the streets of Bangkok and shut down the economy to a large degree. The protests were sustained and daily with some demonstrators camped out on the streets for weeks.
Even then, the Shinawatra governments of the time were able to cling onto power despite the protest movements. Both Yingluck and Thaksin did not have the same relationship with the military that the current leaders do but they were able to hang onto power.
The student protests of today, while admirable, have not reached the same level and the same sustained numbers. A coup is unlikely if the levels that were seen previously cannot be reached.
If one looks at the history of Southeast Asia, revolutions happen because of deteriorating economic situations and the loss of purchasing power. Economic disparity is one of the great movers of human history.
Thailand is currently experiencing its worst contraction ever because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet despite businesses shutting down for good and despite the loss of revenue across all sectors of the economy, the economic spillover has not transitioned to the political sphere.
This is partly due to the fact that the majority of people do not yet blame the economic effects of the pandemic on the government. Covid-19 is still seen as an act of God and the fact that the government has successfully combatted the disease means that they are given a lot of leeways when it comes to the economic ramifications.
Until the farmers and the tour operators that are out of work begin joining the rally, a coup remains unlikely and the government will be able to hang on.