Coup in Thailand (and related media fun)

19 September, 2006

The dust has yet to settle and it’s still at the stage where any street rumour gets reported as news, but it does appear that Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been overthrown by the military while in New York getting ready to address the UN. (ABC) (CBC) (AFP) (Reuters) (Wiki)

The events appear to have unfolded as follows:

  • Military presence started to become obvious in Bangkok during the evening.
  • At about midnight local time, the military took over television stations and most government buildings, including the PM’s official residence.
  • Thaksin and members of the Thai Rak Thai party claimed the coup could not succeed and he was still in charge.
  • Thaksin declared a state of emergency by phone from New York.
  • The army’s commander-in-chief, Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, cancelled the state of emergency and imposed martial law and suspended the constitution. Bloggers and some media report tanks moving freely around the streets.
  • A statement purporting to come from the “Council of Administrative Reform” with King Bhumibol Adulyadej as head of state (ABC notes the council was previously unknown as a political entity) made a statement:

“The armed forces commander and the national police commander have successfully taken over Bangkok and the surrounding area in order to maintain peace and order. There has been no struggle,” the announcement said. “We ask for the co-operation of the public and ask your pardon for the inconvenience.” (CBC)

  • Thaksin rescheduled his speech at the UN from Wednesday night to Tuesday night so he could return promptly.
  • Democratic Party members and members of the public come out waving banners such as “Thaksin Out”, without encumbrance from the military.
  • (04:30) Thaksin cancelled his speech at the UN. (Fox News)

More to come, obviously, but it’s been difficult trying to pin down what is going on. CBC has done a good job overnight and I think the ABC will take that into the morning coverage. The BBC initially adopted a hysterical pro-government line although this improved a little as the morning progressed (it would seem that the David Kelly affair and the Hutton Inquiry is still a bit fresh in some minds)

Given the events in Thailand in the past two years, as long as the military act honourably and the King remains in charge and is listened to, this may well be a positive development. There are occasions when the democratic system is unable to resolve an impasse – a new election would simply have re-installed Thaksin as PM (despite his claims to have resigned after the mass protests in April, which it’s clear he had no intention of doing to begin with) against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of people in four regions, including the capital, Bangkok. Thaksin Shinawatra, by any measure, has lost his mandate to be prime minister, but can depend on an alarming number of safe seats, media control through his business empire, and a political system that gives him far too much power to undermine his enemies. It’s unfortunate that it has come to this, as when first elected, Thaksin introduced sweeping reforms to economic funding, health, education and other areas which were badly needed for many years and which benefitted the broad majority of the Thai population.

(Also read Wiki – Thaksin Shinawatra)

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Mahathir loses grassroots poll

10 September, 2006

In a development which will be somewhat amusing to many Australian observers, 81-year-old former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, known nowadays more for his criticism of his successor Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, lost a grassroots vote to represent his district at a party conference. More from Yahoo.sg:

Former premier Mahathir Mohamed’s humiliating defeat in a grassroots party ballot shows he is finished as a force in Malaysian politics after waging a bitter anti-government campaign, analysts said.

But observers warned that although Mahathir suffered a major blow in the vote which bars him from addressing the ruling party’s annual assembly, his days as a critic are far from over.

The United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) had been fearful that Mahathir would use its November assembly to step up his attacks on the government, which have sent shockwaves through Malaysian politics.

For the right to address the forum he was forced to contest a party ballot in his home state of Kedah, but after 472 members cast their votes Saturday he came in only ninth among 15 candidates vying for seven delegates’ positions.

It was Mahathir’s smallest political contest to date and believed to be his first electoral defeat at an UMNO division he had headed for 30 years.

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