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A coup in Thailand

May 23, 2014

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WHEN the Thai military declared martial law but said it had not taken over the government Pakistanis would have had their doubts. As our unfortunate exposure to four military regimes shows, an army coup need not be very spectacular; it can creep in, and the generals can then devise dubious constitutional nostrums to complete their grip on the state. Living in a world where democracy is praised and military regimes are looked down upon — selectively, of course — the generals have crafted more subtle ways of seizing power. Ziaul Haq was in a class by himself. On July 5, 1977, to assure the nation of his pious intentions, he didn’t abolish the Constitution, chose not to become president and promised elections within 90 days. Having tasted power, and egged on by the claque, he reneged on his word and went on to extend his rule for 11 years. Pervez Musharraf didn’t even declare martial law when he took over on the night of the dramatic ‘hijacking from the ground’ in October 1999. He gave himself the bewildering ‘business’ designation of chief executive, instead of the more grandiose chief martial law administrator moniker, which his three predecessors flaunted. Gradually, the commando general, who called the uniform his skin, spread his tentacles, became head of state, and in 2007 carried out a second coup, imposed emergency, locked up the judges, promulgated a provisional constitution and got himself elected president while still wearing his epaulets. The only gracious thing he did was to bow to the people’s verdict in the 2008 polls and quit.

In Thailand, army chief Gen Prayuth Chanocha is now finally in the saddle, and has vowed to introduce political reforms. First-hand experience tells us that reforms are likely to be a hoax and the real aim is to tighten and lengthen the military’s chokehold. Thailand was indeed having a law and order problem, but a solution should have been found politically instead of turning a budding democracy into a naked military dictatorship.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2014