Thailand: Junta aims to frighten, demoralise population
It was obvious from the start that the aims of Thailand's military junta, which seized power last month, were not about a sincere attempt to restore peace between the two opposing sides in Thailand’s political crisis.
How could it be when the military were part of those who wanted to pull down the democratic system from the start?
The military staged an earlier coup in 2006, wrote a new, less democratic constitution, and appointed half the senate and most of the members of so-called independent bodies.
It worked with judges to frustrate the electorate's wishes by bringing down elected governments and installing the unelected Democrat Party government headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban.
When pro-democracy Red Shirts protested in their thousands to demand free and fair elections in 2010, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who now heads the junta, ordered soldiers to shoot unarmed protesters ― killing nearly 90.
When Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pua Thai government was elected in 2011, against the publicly expressed wishes of Prayuth, the army sat back and did nothing while Suthep’s armed gangs roamed the streets, took over government buildings and wrecked the February elections.
But what exactly do the military want? It probably did not plan the present coup, but acted opportunistically when its allies among the Democrat Party thugs and middle classes had created the right conditions to intervene.
The military’s elite allies certainly wished for this coup, just as they had previously called for the coup in 2006.
The tin pot arrogance of the present junta, with its string of decrees, gross abuses of human rights and stupid “happiness” campaign, reminds me of Thailand's idiotic but brutal dictators from the late 1960s.
But surely, the generals cannot really be so stupid as to believe they can turn the clock back, especially when Thai society has moved so far in the past 40-50 years?
Maybe Prayuth and his crowd of fawning followers really are stupid, or maybe they are engaged in a huge gamble.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of Thais are angry and upset with the way their democratic wishes have been repeatedly trampled on and the way the conservatives have insulted them as being “too stupid to deserve the right to vote”.
Many are also angry at the way the conservatives are creating obstacles to modernisation.
But maybe the junta is gambling that if it creates a strong enough climate of fear, people will eventually become demoralised and inactive. This will not work if democracy activists get organised and continue a low intensity struggle that can break into a mass uprising, such as took place in 1973, 1992 or 2010.
Pua Thai and the Red Shirt leaders are certainly trying to ensure the Red Shirts remain inactive, hoping they can make a political comeback, regardless of the actual state of the democratic process. But the protests organised immediately after the coup were not under their control and many Red Shirts are angry with the failure of their leaders.
Even if the junta manages to demoralise most citizens, it will only be papering over the cracks in society. The roots of the crisis lie in the gross inequalities in society and the way most people feel politically marginalised.
When people regain their confidence to fight, the crisis will explode again. If people learn the lessons from previous set-backs, they will demand the removal of the entire old order.
[Abridged from Red Thai Socialist.]