Fifteen years ago this week, the Thai military overthrew a democratically elected government and replaced it with a coup-appointed cabinet complete with a rubber-stamp parliament.
The reason for the putsch? To overthrow the Thaksin Shinawatra government and eradicate the corruption associated with that government, and to ensure the people remained loyal to the monarchy.
That coup failed. All its intended goals failed.
It failed so hard that it needed judicial intervention to keep out Thaksin’s allies just a few years later, it failed so hard that the military had to kill nearly 90 people on the streets of Bangkok in 2010 to keep out Thaksin’s allies, and it failed so hard that another coup needed to be launched in 2014 to overthrow Thaksin’s sister.
Of course, as we all know, we’re still dealing with the consequences of the 2014 coup but there would be no 2014 coup without the 2006 one.
Why, oh why?
But let us rewind to 2006, months of street protests had shut down the capital. Yellow-shirt protesters led by Sonthi Limthongkul called for the ouster of Thaksin for his alleged disloyalty to the crown. Many others joined the protests, worried by Thaksin’s increasing authoritarianism, his despise of the press, his ongoing drug war, and allegations of corruption.
There were many legitimate reasons in 2006 to oppose the Thaksin administration.
But even as popular sentiment was turning against the erstwhile prime minister, the military saw it fit to launch a coup and bypass what it saw as the messy and unpredictable nature of parliamentary politics.
Led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin and then General Surasidh Chulanont, the military government eroded personal freedoms, led the country into economic ruin, promulgated a inferior constitution, and was even more corrupt than the government it replaced.
The coup also, somehow, enshrined Thaksin as a pro-democracy figure despite his previous record of hollowing democratic institutions. Almost overnight, Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai allies became anti-coup figures, folk heroes to the millions of Thais suddenly disenfranchised by the military’s stupid decision.
And all for what?
The military’s goals then and in the 2014 coup we to get rid of the Shinawatra’s influence in politics.
If that is the case they have failed miserably. At no time since 2008/9 has Thaksin returning to the country seem more likely. With the effects of the pandemic still ravaging the country, the economy in ruins, Thaksin’s time in office is increasingly looked back on with a sense of nostalgia. The former prime minister is now a popular speaker on social media with younger generations tuning into his message more and more.
On this front the military has failed.
The coup during 2006 and 2014 was also launched to protect the monarchy against undefined threats that wanted to topple the sacred institution.
Again on this front, it has been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather than undefined, vague threats against the monarch that supposedly existed in 2006 and 2014, we now have very well defined protesters who are demanding reform.
If anything, the coups have associated the royal institution with military takeovers and politics. Rather than defending or uplifting the monarchy, the generals have dirtied it and brought in into a contentious arena.
Now more and more young people have asked questions that prior to the 2006 coup didn’t seem possible in the Thai discourse.
By every measure the 2006 coup failed. 15 years later, the coup has brought nothing but hardship, hindered our economic growth, destroyed our political stability and brought the monarchy into disrepute.
It should not be viewed as a singular event but a catalyst that led to countless political crisis including the even more disastrous 2014 putsch whose consequences we are still living with today.