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Another Coup Looming in Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
May 10, 2012

An activist holds a cut-out mask of Amphon Tangnoppaku outside Bangkok Remand Prison. An activist holds a cut-out mask of Amphon Tangnoppaku outside Bangkok Remand Prison. (Sukree Sukplang/Courtesy Reuters)


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.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Termsak Chalermpalanupap

    Good morning,
    I used to believe that there would no longer be any more coup in Thailand. And I was completely caught by surprise by the coup on 19 September 2006.
    Now I would not dismiss the possibility of another coup in Thailand. It can certainly happen, because most senior military leaders are highly politicized and would always do what they can to advance their own interests. This is a very sad side of the Thai “democracy”.
    After 8 decades since the end of the absolute monarchy, the Thai “democracy” is still in its sick and corrupted infancy.

  • Posted by Peter

    The Thailand generals,mostly half-educated, mostly involved trafficking, smuggling, niteclubs, commission seeking, and other monkey business, need to get out of politics altogether. The last war they actually “fought” against an external enemy was against Laos in the late 1970’s. Needless to say, the Thai Army was soundly defeated by the almost pathetic and unequipped but high-spirited Laos Army.

    They basically operate as a kind of “mafia” in Thailand using their “devotion” and “loyalty” to the “monarchy” as a “respectable cover” for what they are really focused on, money and political power.

  • Posted by lek

    the real question here should not be about the law but the application of the law. according to the sentencing judge, the prosecution did not present any evidence to prove that he had sent the sms but neither did he present any evidence to prove he had not, therefore he should be convicted. Obvious questions like, how could this poor old man know the phone number of a high ranking member or parliment, or what motive did he have, if any, or who was it that could have had the technical ability to clone the man’s mobile phone indentifying number (easy to do for people in the telecom business, hint hint) – these questions are not considered at all. And then, as if on cue, the paid red shirts come out of nowhere to condem the law in an attempt to roll it back. the whole thing smacks of a set up to me and the old man was an unfortunage patsy. But thai courts and prisons, they have a long way to go before reaching the level of anything deserving of respect, too.

  • Posted by Mark

    @ Peter. If you are referring to the Laos civil war you should count the American army as being soundly defeated by the “pathetic” communist army too, as they withdrew – not their last defeat in South East Asia either.

  • Posted by Chanthai

    @ peter: I guess the new government is not “focused on, money and political power.”?

    Do you think a wanted person should run Thailand from the background whose sole purpose is to enrich himself and his family and crowd of supporters and lackeys? DO you think th eelection was not bought in Issan. Just ask the people there who are now turning against them. They received ponly false promise and now will turn against him as wil every oither Thai citizen.

    No one wants a coup here either but if all elections are rigged and all politicians are just a bunch of old guys who have been in power for years don’t you think that is something bad too? There are MPs who have NEVER lost an election in 30 years in the Thai government. I wonder why they never lost and what happened to some of their opponents?

    How will you falangs like Thailand in the future when it is just like Cambodia as that is what will happen when it becomes a one party state with a “boss” for life. Thaksin and his gang are impressed with Huin Sen’s regime and his length of stay in power.

    If you think all Thais are as stupid as you then please comment on. No one who is Thai, that I know at least, will believe a word you say as you and most falangs in Thailand are living in the dream world about what really goes on in Thailand as your only source of information is the English language news which is very watered down.

    As far as half educated Generals. Please… just look at one senior cabinet members education qualifications which include a degree in Language studies who cannot speak English. As far as I know the Thai law states that all cabinet members spek English fluently. There is more than one too.

    You may think we are all dumb but we’re not. Wake up!

  • Posted by Sengto

    ^ Above me*
    As a Lao-American, let me correct this for you to better understand about us Lao people in general. And please, do not point finger at the Lao people as a whole, and claim that we used monarchy as our shield as a devotion and loyalty in the mannerism of a mafia in Thailand. You should blame yourself for criticizing and judging us first without any hard evidence or fact about the case. That alone already making you distrusting any Thai ethnic or national who wants to be loyal to a country Thailand that they now called home.

  • Posted by Farang Buffalo

    Strikes me that most Thais AND farangs are living in dream world. If they really think that color-coded mafia factions are ever going to serve our needs, we are, undoubtedly, very sadly deluded.

    Right now, such parasites are all there is on the local political menu. Bob owes you no apologies, Chanchai. It seems you object to his notion that the sucessionist power-seekers hide behind the institution. Frankly, you would be hard put to, to try and prove that this is not the case. When ever any local political rogue is backed into a slight corner, flag-waving bravado is always the response. Thus they continually disarm the genuine grievances of real citizens, and so hasten their own moral bankruptcy.. The way to get rid of such cowardly and base behavior is to turn an increasingly critical spotlight on it.

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