Thailand’s Ongoing Struggle: A Look Back at the 2006 Coup and Its Lingering Impact on Politics

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Today marks the anniversary of the 2006 coup that ignited modern political conflict, and we are still grappling with its consequences. The coup occurred after the People’s Alliance for Democracy, also known as the Yellow Shirts, protested against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration, accusing him of being a corrupt politician aiming to undermine the royal institution.

General Sonthi Boonyaratglin led the coup, claiming it was necessary to eradicate corruption and prevent a crisis, as Thaksin was planning to crack down on the Yellow Shirts’ protesters. The 2006 coup is often referred to as an unfinished coup because, despite Thaksin fleeing the country in 2008, his political network remained intact, and his disenfranchised supporters remained steadfast, giving rise to the Red Shirts movement.

Four years after the coup, the bloodshed that Sonthi claimed to want to avoid eventually occurred with the massacre of Red Shirts protesters carried out by soldiers. Despite the crackdown, Thaksin’s influence persisted, and he even managed to install his sister as prime minister before the military once again decided to stage another coup, citing the need for peace and stability.

The 2014 coup makers, referred to as the Three Ps tyrants, which included Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, and Gen Anupong Paochinda, were all implicated in the Red Shirts massacre. They exploited the conflict between the Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts as a pretext to carry out another coup, ostensibly to “prevent a crisis” and evade accountability for their actions.

This time, the coup-makers did not recede into the background to manipulate a military-backed civilian government, as Sonthi had done previously. Instead, they remained as a junta-government, initiated the suppression of their opposition, silenced dissidents, and implemented the most undemocratic charter Thailand had ever seen.

It took the Three Ps tyrants five years before they felt comfortable enough to hold the 2019 election. Since the election was rigged by the junta-drafted charter and junta-appointed senators, the coup makers managed to transition their power through military-backed parties to a new government that remained in power for another four years.

Still unsatisfied, they believed they could easily remain in power for another four years until the Move Forward Party thwarted their plan by defeating them in the 2023 election. This necessitated a change of plan, and the military realized that another coup was not an option at the moment, so they decided to turn to their former enemy.

Thaksin had been seeking an opportunity to return to Thailand for 15 years, and it was the same people who expelled him from the country who provided him with the chance to return, which he seized. In a way, Thaksin had no other choice because his main plan of achieving a landslide victory was also foiled by the Move Forward Party’s success. Since both now had a common enemy, the military and Thaksin decided to form a “reconciliation” government to share power.

Meanwhile, the coup makers from 2006 and 2014 have yet to face consequences for their treasonous acts, and the masterminds behind the 2010 massacre are roaming free, while more voters are disenfranchised, and the families of the victims continue to seek justice.

The reconciliation efforts of this red-and-yellow-hybrid government are unlikely to succeed because they do not include all conflicting parties, and they continue to imprison people with differing opinions. Instead, they have created a new conflict with the orange clans, while corruption remains rampant, the rule of law has deteriorated, and the people still yearn for changes and reforms to remove the military’s influence in politics and address inequalities.

Hopefully, this new round of conflict will not lead to more major protests, massacres, or coups; otherwise, this vicious cycle will persist, and it will be the people who bear the consequences while the coup makers evade accountability and continue to benefit from their crimes.

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