Opinion: Defense minister’s comments on coups are defeatist and embarrassing

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In a recent statement, Defense Minister Suthin Klangsaeng posited a notion that may appear at first glance as an acknowledgement of the power of popular will over institutional mechanisms in preventing coups. He articulated that if the majority of the populace stands against the idea of a coup, it would be significantly challenging for one to occur. This sentiment, albeit optimistic, shines a spotlight on a critical flaw within the Thai political framework – the recurrent specter of military interventions that have historically upended the country’s democratic processes.

Thailand’s long and tumultuous history with coups, having experienced more than a dozen since 1932, underscores a systemic vulnerability that transcends mere administrative safeguards. The pattern is alarmingly clear: a cycle of interventions, justifications, and temporary restorations of civilian rule, only for the process to potentially repeat itself. This historical backdrop renders the Defense Minister’s comments not just naive but troublingly dismissive of the gravity and responsibility of his office.

The Pheu Thai Party, now leading the government, has a vested interest in dismantling the infrastructure that has perennially facilitated military coups. Given the party’s history, particularly the coups against administrations aligned with Thaksin Shinawatra, it is paramount that the current leadership adopts a more assertive stance in curtailing military dominance in politics. The narrative of inevitability surrounding coups, as hinted by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s resignation to their uncontrollable nature, is not only defeatist but dangerously complacent.

The defense minister’s assertion that the armed forces’ relationship with the government is “normal” and that no imminent signs of a coup are visible does little to assure a public weary of political instability. While it is encouraging to hear of a new generation of military leaders possibly open to fresh perspectives, the real test lies in tangible reforms that limit the military’s political influence.

It is not enough to rely on societal consensus to prevent coups. While public sentiment is undeniably vital in shaping the political landscape, the responsibility for maintaining the integrity of democratic governance falls squarely on the shoulders of those in power. The defense ministry, far from kowtowing to the generals, should spearhead efforts to reinforce civilian supremacy over the military. This involves not just vetoing unreasonable arms purchases but actively working to realign the military’s role within a framework that safeguards democratic institutions and processes.

For Thailand to truly break free from the cycle of coups, a comprehensive strategy that includes both preventive measures and the cultivation of a robust democratic culture is essential. This means ensuring accountability, transparency, and the rule of law within all branches of government, including the military. Only through decisive action and commitment to democratic principles can Thailand hope to move beyond the shadows of its coup-laden past towards a more stable and democratic future.

While the Defense Minister’s remarks may reflect an optimistic belief in the power of popular will, they also highlight a pressing need for a more proactive and preventative approach to governance. The Pheu Thai-led government has a historic opportunity to redefine the country’s trajectory by decisively breaking the wheel that has facilitated repeated military interventions. The task ahead is formidable, but the stakes—namely, the preservation of Thailand’s democratic integrity—are too high to ignore.


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