Recent international media attention related to Thailand has been (quite reasonably) focused on the tragic story of Ampon Tangnoppakul, also known as “Ar Kong,” an elderly grandfather who had been sentenced to twenty years in prison for allegedly sending four text messages defaming the monarchy. This despite the fact that he had no previous political experience, and the state could not even prove he had actually sent the messages, but instead simply applied the standard that he could not disprove he sent them — obviously not a reasonable standard of proof in a democracy. Sick with cancer and other ailments, and separated from his entire family, Ampon died in jail earlier this week. There have been many stories on him but one of the most insightful, and provocative, is “A Tale of Two Grandfathers.”
Ampon’s death may finally help catalyze a broader movement to reform Thailand’s archaic and now brutal Lèse-Majesté (LM) laws. Unfortunately, the Yingluck government continues to say that it will not favor reforming LM laws.
Yet, at the same time as this case is getting media attention, other more under-the-radar news in Thailand should prove extremely worrying to U.S. policymakers. In an interesting piece in Asia Times, two retired U.S. army officers who frequently write on the Thai military note that the Thai armed forces are currently beefing up their strength, working to promote closer intra-army unity, and essentially preparing for a potential conflict with the elected government should Thaksin return to the country, or should the elected government try to carve into the army’s political independence.
Though these two writers can be at times hyperbolic and incredibly pro-army in their writings, the news they detail echoes stories from other army sources, and suggests that another coup in Thailand is hardly out of the question after Thaksin’s imminent return. U.S. policymakers should be prepared for such a possibility —and should be prepared with extremely harsh measures should the Thai military stage a coup.