Monthly Archives: September 2006

Thailand Coup: Nine Days In

The big news in Bangkok today is that the city’s long-awaited new airport has finally opened.

CNN:

Bangkok opens much-delayed air hub

Spluch:

World class airport with no air-conditioning?

More airport photos at 2Bangkok.com.

— The award for best airport story goes to the IHT’s Tom Fuller:

Key passages:

The official inauguration of Suvarnabhumi, which is pronounced Sawana-poom, will be the latest in what has become a sort of Asian ritual in recent years: As national economies rise, governments discard the crowded, often improvised old airports and open giant, gleaming replacements. In Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and now Bangkok the new airports are the cathedrals of international air travel, with soaring glass facades and cavernous departure halls.

But the official opening of Suvarnabhumi on Thursday comes with some added baggage, and not the kind that passengers carry to check-in counters. This is political baggage.

The airport project floundered for about 40 years before Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in 2001. Thaksin, a leader whose motto could have been “I don’t want to hear excuses,” pushed through the airport’s construction and sought to open it before elections that were to be held in October or November.

Those elections were called off last week when military leaders removed Thaksin from power. Now, with the prime minister gone, the airport has become a symbol of the ambivalence that the country feels toward him.

While Thaksin was appreciated for an aggressive, can-do style that brought universal health care to the country and paid back the debts owed to the International Monetary Fund, Thaksin also came to be seen as too aggressive in a country that highly values politeness. And his administration was dogged by allegations of conflicts of interest and corruption.

“He got it done. No other government was able to do it,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok who has written about the airport. “On the other hand he cheated along the way and took a lot for his cronies.”

And:

In terms of geography, the move is a step down. Don Muang means “city on a hill” while the area around Suvarnabhumi used to be called cobra swamp before being given its present name, which means golden land. Don Muang will handle cargo and some catering for a few weeks or months and then will be used for charter and government flights.

“Cobra swamp.” Awesome.

(Emphasis mine.)

Other stories:

— Ismail Wolff has an op-ed in the NYT recounting his experience of the coup here in Bangkok:

The Silk Revolution

AP:

Thailand’s coup leaders struggle for acceptance abroad

And last but certainly not least:

BBC:

Thai generals ban go-go dancers

— Here’re more pics on a Thai Web site.

Only in Thailand, my friends. Only in Thailand.

Thailand Coup: Did Thaksin Know it Was Coming?

AP:

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra may have whisked some of his assets out of the country aboard two aircraft days before a military coup ousted him from power, airline officials said Sunday.

An official from Thai Airways International, who demanded anonymity because company policy did not allow him to speak to the press, said he wanted the new ruling military council to investigate the incidents.

Speculation has been rife in Thailand that Thaksin may have snuck money out of the country in the days leading up to the coup, but there has been no confirmation from the council.

Thaksin departed for Finland to begin a foreign tour on September 9, loading up his government-assigned aircraft with 58 large suitcases and trunks, the official of the national carrier said.

The prime minister’s aircraft, named Thai Koofah, was then inexplicably left parked in Finland for more than a week as Thaksin continued on his trip on other transportation.

A second aircraft carrying 56 suitcases — an Airbus 340-600 — was dispatched from Bangkok to meet up with the prime minister just days before the coup, the Thai Airways official said.

Another official in the airline industry, requesting anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, confirmed the second flight, saying it left on September 17 — two days before the military toppled Thaksin in a bloodless coup.

It was unclear why Thaksin needed a second aircraft when his own plane was already assigned to fly him to Europe and the United States.

Speculation has surfaced about whether Thaksin knew of the coup in advance and moved some of his vast assets out of the country.

(Emphasis mine.)

Thailand Coup: Day Five

Monks with Tank
[Image: New York Times]

Things’re still quiet here in Bangkok; there was a very small protest at Siam Paragon mall last night. It drew between 15 and 100 protesters, depending on who you ask. By all accounts the numbers of journalists and onlookers outnumbered the protesters. The biggest question today is when a new PM will be named and who he’ll be.

The bottom line: Thai people feel an extraordinary amount of respect for their king, and so long as he has endorsed the coup leaders, all is copacetic.

To the news coverage:

CNN:

Thai banker ‘favored as next PM’

AP:

Even in Thaksin territory, villagers say coup could solve Thailand’s problems

The CSM‘s Simon Montlake and Dan Ten Kate:

Thai coup uproots a thin democracy

The IHT‘s Seth Mydans:

“Coup May Allow Thais to Take New Tack on Insurgency”

Mr. Thaksin’s ouster in a coup this week offers the chance for a new approach, though not a quick end, to an insurgency that has become nastier and more entrenched and that experts say may be receiving guidance and training from foreign Islamic insurgents.

The WaPo‘s Anthony Faiola:

Thai Coup Highlights Struggles Over Democracy

Reuters‘ Ed Cropley:

Coup puts Thailand’s dream of world role on ice

AP:

Thailand’s military rulers irritated at foreign reporting on coup

Elsewhere:

— The Council for the Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy — aka the ruling junta — now has an official Web site;

Bangkok Pundit:

The 14 October and to a lesser extent the 6 October are important dates in the Thai calendar. Given their connection between civilian government and military coups both dates will likely see protests against the coup.

2Bangkok’s photos prove that this was truly the “smooth as silk” coup;

— Thai food blogger Chez Pim examines the situation; and

Bangkok Expat Mama attended a small pro-democracy rally last night.

And finally, thanks for links from:

Jaunted; Wendy Harman; Obsidian Wings; and Centerfield.

Thailand Coup: Day Three

Gen. Sondhi

The IHT‘s Tom Fuller:

Thai Junta Imposes Curbs on News Media

The WSJ’s James Hookway has a good story:

Was Thai Coup Pre-Emptive?

AP:

Coup raises fresh questions about press freedom in Thailand

Seattle Times:

Some travelers wary after Thailand coup, but tourism impacts expected to be brief

The Independent‘s Justin Huggler:

Democracy is dead, but Bangkok’s 24-hour party people still live it up

Catch Me on KQED’s Pacific Time

KQED's Pacific Time

UPDATE: The show has aired; you can listen to it here (it can be streamed or downloaded as an mp3). I come on after a couple of minutes. The host, Sydnie Kohara, provides some good context regarding the situation.

I was just interviewed by Pacific Time, a radio program that covers “the ideas, trends and cultural patterns that flow back and forth between Asia and America.” It’s produced by KQED in San Francisco. I answered a few questions about the situation here in Thailand. The show is broadcast on public radio stations throughout the US. Here’s when and where it airs.

(Readers in DC: the show will be WETA 90.9 FM tonight at 8 p.m. You can listen live online here.)

Thailand’s Bloodless Coup: Nearing 48 Hours In

Thailand Coup: Soldiers Stand Guard

I spent four hours this afternoon walking around Bangkok and taking photos and talking to people. The image above very clearly illustrates the situation on the ground: Soldiers stand guard, while behind them civilians go about their daily lives. To the right, the two symbols of the nation — the country’s tri-colored flag and a yellow emblem of King Bhumibol Adulyadej — are united.

The city is calm. Traffic was light yesterday but appeared, in central Bangkok, to have nearly returned to its normal volume today.

Thailand Coup: Major Intersection

Thailand Coup: Major Intersection

Traffic has picked up a bit from yesterday, but it appeared to move more fluidly than usual. (Yes, this really is “more fluidly.”)

Thailand Coup: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers Relaxing

And, as ever, motorcycle taxi drivers lounged about and waited for fares.

To the news reports:

CNN:

• Deposed PM Thaksin says coup was totally unexpected
• Sonthi says “all sectors” cooperating with new ruling council
• Rebel Muslim leader says coup may resolve dispute in south
• King endorses military’s takeover, orders people to follow general

Reuters:

Thai army bans “political activities”

AP:

Billionaire PM had no shortage of enemies

The lede of the day goes to DPA‘s Peter Janssen:

Bangkok (dpa) – Thailand has arguably taken coup-making to new heights of non-violence, judging by the peaceful response to Tuesday’s bloodless blitzkrieg that toppled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power and put a junta in command of the kingdom.

Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Sonthi Boonyaratklin brought troops and tanks into Bangkok Tuesday night and took over the country without firing a shot, putting a junta in power that has promised to hand over the reins of government to a cabinet of appointed civilians within two weeks and hold a general election within a year.

“I have seen 15 coups myself in the past 30 years and this was the easiest one yet,” said Luzi Matzig, a long time resident in Thailand who runs Asia Travels, a tour agency. “A smooth-as-silk kind of coup,” quipped Matzig, playing on Thailand’s national airline’s advertising slogan “THAI – Smooth as Silk.”

The Nation:

Figures Behind the Coup (graphic)

Bangkok Post:

Police, bomb plot file vanish

Elsewhere:

Bangkok Pundit is staying on top of things, as is 2Bangkok.com.

Thailand’s Bloodless Coup: 24 Hours In

Today's Bangkok Post

Thailand’s Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was overthrown 24 hours ago in a bloodless coup.

History is in the making here in the Thai capital.

And while the images and stories flowing out of Thailand might portray an unstable city, a strange sense of calm has descended upon the normally frenetic Bangkok. The streets, which typically overflow with surging traffic, were surprisingly clear today. People are going about their daily business, but perhaps doing so more quietly than usual. Schools and most offices were closed today; reports are that they’ll remain shuttered tomorrow.

I was in Kuala Lumpur yesterday but flew into Bangkok at 6 p.m. local time this evening; during the 30-minute ride from the airport to my apartment, which is located in central Bangkok, I witnessed a solitary military truck carting soldiers through the city. More military forces are stationed elsewhere.

The big developments today were that the coup’s leader has stepped forward. The man now in charge of Thailand is General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. And, crucially, the Thai King has endorsed the country’s new leadership. Other developments:

— an interim government will be chosen within two weeks;
— Sonthi says democracy will not be restored for a year;
— a new constitution will be drafted;
— elections might be held in October, 2007

Wikipedia has a nice summary of last night’s events:

The 2006 Thailand coup d’état took place on 19 September 2006, when members of the Royal Thai Army staged a coup d’état against the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The coup, which is Thailand’s first in fifteen years, followed a lengthy political crisis involving Thaksin and political opponents, occurring less than a month before elections were scheduled to be held, on October 15. The military junta cancelled the upcoming elections, abrogated the Constitution, dissolved Parliament, banned political protests, declared martial law, arrested Cabinet members, and blacked out all local and international news broadcasts in Thailand. No casualties have been reported. Protesters, including a hunger striker, have been arrested.

The IHT’s Tom Fuller has a good story:

Leader of Coup in Thailand Sets Timetable

CNN:

Thailand coup leader vows new PM in weeks

The Guardian‘s Tim Footman:

Coup? What coup?

The Asia Sentinel’s Dan Ten Kate and Ismail Wolff quote a political analyst as saying this was not a coup, but rather an attempted coup and then a counter-coup.

Elsewhere:
Channel News Asia’s Thailand in Crisis page;
Photos of the coup from a Thai Navy Web site;
— Jotman has some photos of the action;

And, finally, some blogs linking to my coverage here:
Instapundit;
The Washington Post’s Express (today’s print edition and yesterday’s blog);
Metafilter comments;
The Irish Trojan;
Publius Pundit;
Gridskipper

More tomorrow. Stay tuned…