Sunday May 22 marks the anniversary of the 2014 military putsch which toppled the elected Shinawatra government after six months of political violence on Bangkok streets. The same date in 2022, hardly a coincidence, is election day for the posts of Bangkok governor and Pattaya mayor in polls which are widely thought to be somewhat indicative of the results of the general election to be held before March 2023.
Unlike previous years, the coup anniversary date isn’t being seen as an opportunity for street demonstrations against military intervention. Bangkok is busy with the gubernatorial contest and there is no strong tradition in Pattaya of street protests. There has been little recent commentary about the prospect of yet another coup, although prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha denied last week there would be a repeat performance, even as former premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh refused to rule one out.
In an interview with the Bangkok Post, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva offers his views on how to prevent another putsch. He points out that coup makers invariably tear up the current constitution which means that they have the legal tool to start afresh and issue their own sovereign laws. He puts his faith in the judiciary, particularly the constitutional court, refusing to be compliant and insisting that law-related changes cannot be introduced during a non-parliamentary period.
Thailand has experienced 12 successful coups since 1932 and several failed attempts. Recent ones have been largely peaceful and the 2014 putsch was the first not to experience tanks rolling out into the streets of the metropolis. Analysts point out that Thai coups are generally preceded by a period of intense street violence with coup leaders promising to a weary public the restoration of order and an end to corruption. Thais have a saying about military interventions: “ya saman pracham bahn”. That’s the reality that coups only attach a temporary sticking plaster to a serious wound.