Preeti Koirala: Ripples of the Thai Coup
Ripples of the Thai Coup
By Preeti Koirala
The sudden bloodless coup staged by the Thai Army has sent ripples to Nepal even though we are miles separate from one another and don't even belong to the same region. But Thailand has seen seventeen coups since its birth and therefore it is nothing unnatural in that country especially when an incumbent government is widely perceived to be corrupt and unpopular and when civil unrest paralyzes daily life in Bangkok. That is why military takeovers are almost always bloodless in Thailand. Each time they carry with them considerable amount of public sympathy and the general people take it as an inevitable political development when the politicians fail to address the country's problems. The 72 year old Thai King, a revered and a skilful monarch, has seen 17 coups, 20 Prime Ministers and 16 Constitutions in his 60 years of reign but has at all times steered his country in the steady path of economic development. Even during trying times of communist insurgencies rocking the entire East Asian countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Malaya and Laos; Thailand was successful in guarding off the plague of communism by overtly tying itself up with the United States and acquiring massive American military assistance to meet the communist threat.
In this particular case, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was tangled in several messy corruption scandals. According to his opponents - who highlighted his intolerance of criticism and his failure to end separatist violence in the country's south, his fall can be traced back to his family's decision at the start of 2006 to sell its shares in one of Thailand's biggest telecom groups, Shin Corp. The sale, which netted family members and others $1.9bn, angered many urban Thais, who grumbled that the family avoided paying tax and passed control of an important national asset to Singaporean investors. He also has shares in an English football club, which sparkled a separate series of controversy last year. His entire family has been linked in some financial controversy or the other. A man known for his arrogance, dictatorial characteristics and overconfidence, he proved himself incapable of controlling an insurgency in the Muslim dominated South of the country.
With street protests mounting on him to resign, Mr Thaksin called a snap general election for April but the main opposition parties boycotted the polls and many voters chose to register a "no vote". Several unopposed ruling party candidates failed to achieve the 20 percent of votes needed to become MPs, leaving the parliament unable to convene. In essence, he was a duly elected Prime Minister for the namesake and Thailand was a parliamentary democracy only for answering correctly in quiz contests but nothing more.
The reaction of the international community to this event was also particularly "soft". They know that Thailand cannot be bullied as it is an economic heavyweight in ASEAN. The U.S., a long-term ally of Thailand fell short of calling for a re-instatement of the Thaksin government. India on its part only "noted" the evolving situation in Thailand and said that it "attached great importance to relations with a country with which India has ancient civilizational affinities and strong bonds of friendship and cooperation."
While the Thai soldiers patrolling Bangkok streets are shown being greeted with flowers by locals and every international news channel is reporting that the common man seems largely happy to see the end of a long fraudulent misrule; Nepali politicians are miffed by the event. Prime Minister G P Koirala denounced the military takeover and said that such an event was unlikely to happen in Nepal. But General Secretary of the CPN (UML) Madhav Kumar Nepal said that a military coup could not be ruled out here just like in Thailand if the present transitional period continued to remain indefinitely. Several lawmakers in the Lower House took special time to criticize the Thai Army's actions and warned everybody in Nepal to be vigilant. They have hilariously demanded that a special resolution to this effect be passed by the parliament as if the Thai Generals are going to be dreadfully scared by a bizarre decree passed by the re-instated parliament of Nepal.
The current Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government was formed after the successful culmination of a people's movement. Why on earth is there a need to be so afraid of an impending coup if the present seven party alliance considers itself popular amongst the people of Nepal? Every newspaper, almost every speaker in programs organized in the last few days, from ministers to political party leaders and from coffee shop tete-e`-tetes to conversations in blog sites refer to the Thai coup and somehow draw parallels between what happened in Thailand and what is happening in Nepal. This anxiety disorder syndrome prevalent amongst our politicians actually shows how weak and fragile they are deep inside. But this anxiety is stemming from somewhere and everyone knows that a very strong undercurrent is flowing beneath. Following are some of the glaring mistakes that the current ruling establishment has locked itself into in the past 4 months in power:
The (Maoist) tactics is clear. Go into the government, set the date of the CA elections and then massively mobilize guerrillas with weapons to terrorize the voters to cast ballot in their favour. They were the ones first to call for the U.N. to be involved in facilitation/mediation of the conflict now it is they that have backtracked on the arms management proposal set forth by the U.N.
1. The re-instated parliament has declared itself sovereign and cut all powers and privileges of not only the monarch but also the independent judiciary. But the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal-1990 has not been abrogated nor the interim Constitution announced. Hearing on a writ petition challenging the legality of the "Historic" parliamentary declaration is being overseen in the Supreme Court and the apex court on Friday has given a show-cause notice to the government and the parliament. A negative verdict on it literally means that all the resolutions passed by this re-instated House will come tumbling down like a house of cards.
2. The parliament has left no stone unturned to censure, criticize, humiliate and disgrace the Nepal Army. Dishonouring the security forces have become sort of a fashion among the leaders of the alliance and one section of the media. Nowhere in the world does the incumbent Deputy Prime Minister who has his body-guard coming from the Army rebuke the same institution and nowhere do numerous committees and sub-committees of the parliament repeatedly call the Chief of the Army Staff to question on almost everything trivial-from road construction projects to army welfare funds.
3. The new Army Regulation Act states that there will be an appellate court judge overseeing the cases of court martial indictments. This is not done even in the United States of America or India-the two biggest democracies in the world where the army is under civilian control.
4. The Queen of Britain is the supreme commander in chief of the British Armed Forces and so is the President of India, the supreme commander in chief of the Indian Army. There has never been a coup in either of these two countries. But in Thailand the Prime Minister was constitutionally the supreme commander of the Thai Armed Forces. By removing Nepal's monarch who was the safety valve between the army and the government from nearly three centuries, what the present dispensation has effectively done - is endanger itself.
5. Everybody is sensing that there is total lawlessness not only in the capital but also in the major cities of the country due to the heavy presence of Maoist militia trying to abduct, extort or simply take advantage arising from an already volatile situation. In the words of premier Koirala, they are vying to put ghee into the fire. It has almost become an anarchic situation in Kathmandu with daily traffic jams, routine protests and demonstrations and increase in petty thefts, day-light robberies and kidnapping of children. On a particular case of an eight year old body kidnapped from Koteswor, none other than Madhav Nepal has publicly said that the "P.A. of the Home Minister is involved in the kidnapping", which is why the boy hasn't been found. The Nepal Police, which should have been extra vigilant seems these days to be totally demoralized and disheartened to carry out its duties.
By removing Nepal's monarch who was the safety valve between the army and the government from nearly three centuries, what the present dispensation has effectively done - is endanger itself. 6. The US ambassador to Nepal James F. Moriarty met Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and shared experiences of his recent tour of the mid and far-western regions of the country, where he found that the law and order situation had deteriorated. According to reports, Moriarty expressed his concern over privileges being given to the Maoists by the government and told the prime minister that they could pose a threat to democracy as the Maoists were still indulging in extortion, abduction and intimidation in rural areas. Moriarty, in fact, has spoken in no uncertain terms that the induction of the Maoists into the interim government without they giving up arms would pose a serious question mark on Nepal's standing amongst the community of nations. In essence, he means to say that we would be in the category of the Hezbollah, Hamas, Cuba or North Korea.
7. The Rayamajhi Commission has been enthusiastically calling even junior level police, armed police and Nepal army personnel on their suspected involvement in suppressing the people's movement. If the commission actually prosecutes hundreds of these officers from the security forces, the entire security structure of the state will go hay-wire which will benefit none but the Maoists.
8. On the other hand, the Maoists don't seem to be in any mood to lay down their weapons for a peaceful and successful holding of the Constituent Assembly elections. Their tactics is clear. Go into the government, set the date of the CA elections and then massively mobilize guerrillas with weapons to terrorize the voters to cast ballot in their favour. They were the ones first to call for the U.N. to be involved in facilitation/mediation of the conflict now it is they that have backtracked on the arms management proposal set forth by the U.N.
Furthermore, the fourth conference of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) held in August in an undisclosed location somewhere in India has also vowed to "deepen and extend the links between genuine Maoists of the region". This was stated in the political resolution adopted by the conference. Contrary to what they have agreed with the government on the road to peace, Nepali Maoists - in the joint resolution - have vowed together with their counterparts in the region to "turn South Asia into a flaming field of Maoist revolutions". In this whole rigmarole, they appear to be further energized in their final aim of a totalitarian communist state.
Put all these pieces together in the puzzle and then we glaringly see the vulnerability of the present government – totally unable to tame the Maoists while at the same time afraid of the King. Instead what the government can and must do is to opt for a real reconciliation with all political forces of the country, accept constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy as being the twin pillars of the solidity of the Nepali state, start valuing and respecting the institution of the army and then on negotiate with the Maoists to end the decade long insurgency.
In these few months of negotiations with the rebels, it has been amply clear that the government has conceded a mile while the Maoists have not even given an inch. Such a sloppy style of negotiations will lead to utter disaster and ease the way for a Maoist takeover. In the past it has always been the Maoists that have broken the ceasefire and gone back to the jungle. With so much of international backing and popular support, the present government need not be timid while talking tough with the rebels neither hesitant to break the ceasefire if the Maoists continue to violate the ceasefire code of conduct.
This article is published in nepalinews. Ms. Koirala is an insurance executive based in the United States. She is currently in Nepal for the Dashain holidays. She can be reached at preeti72koirala @ hotmail.com