Thailand's 'pro-democracy' coup by the military was expected to take a year, but already
the Generals are finding that governance is no easy thing
. In the South and South-East Pacific the three biggest economies are Australia, Indonesia and Thailand. Their relations, their political stability, their economic liberty and their defence relationship between the three big nations are all very important to the regions on-going harmony and prosperity.
A coup is coup, and a junta a junta, no matter how benevolent the intention as it suspended the highest law of the land and replaced it with a military who has adopted the executive and legislative powers (through an appointed assembly) of government. There is no liberal democratic situation where this can be good. Democracy is messy, and politicians act in their self-interest and often against the common good and public wish, however the restraint the constitution places on politicians, and the branches of government is for the purpose of tying it all together in a recoverable and retrievable manner.
A state of exception situation where the constitution has to be suspended in order to save must be recognised as undemocratic, illiberal, unconstitutional and consequently - criminal.
There are significant foreign policy issues for Australia with the Thai military junta which Australian planners and policy makers will have to take into account. Firstly a destablised Thailand, especially one run by the military, may affect the security of our trade routes with North Asia - which is a massive market for our exports that are transported by sea. Our biggest trading partners include Japan, China and South Korea.
Australia has a
free trade agreement
with Thailand, even though the free trade agreements are often nothing more than managed trade, it appears that the Australian government has managed to negotiate tariff reductions for Australian business.
It is possible that the Thai military will act internationally and domestically in an arbitrary manner, that may defy rationalism, and be driven by the desire to maintain popular
. Afflictions which negatively affect the liberality, and the consequent prosperity, of other despotic states such as Burma, North Korea, etc.
Thailand remains a monarchy despite the volatility of its constitution at the hands of coups. While a monarchy can be perceived as a conservative institution, radiating stability and permanence, its presence can confuse separation of powers and checks and balances - especially in relation to the executive position. Royalty also poses a problem in that elected representatives do not see
the hereditary political status of the monarch as legitimate
. Rightfully so, but this can be cause for open political tension.
which is supposed to operate until a better one can take its place, presumably one that is an improvement over both the previous one as well, that was suspended with the coup. A constitution is not a pact between monarch and government, it is the law which defines the processes and limitations of government.
If the previous constitution was such a failure, then popular will in a representative system suggests that politicians would have represented their electorate in getting it changed somehow. There is some naivety in that statement as the Australian Constitution has largely been ignored or forgotten unless the politicians could squeeze ever greater centralisation and power out of it.
However the popular will for a republic in Australia led to a referendum on constitutional change even though the government at the time was opposed to one. The referendum failed on its merits, but it is preferable to the ADF sweeping in, running over the current constitution with a Texta and sticking their own one in its place.
So where are the issues in the Interim Constitution? For one, the Executive can remove the Prime Minister;
Article 14. The King appoints the Prime Minister and not more than thirty-five other Ministers as advised by the Prime Minister to constitute the Council of Ministers having the duties to carry out the administration of the State affairs.
The King has the prerogative to remove the Prime Minister from office as advised by the Chairman of the Council for National Security and the King has the power to remove Ministers from office as advised by the Prime Minister.
This places the National Security Council outside of being removed by the King, or by the King under the recommendation of the Prime Minister. However, the National Security Council can remove the Prime Minister. It is like the National Security Council is a Governor-General without having the restrictions of the Governor-General in Council. It should be noted the Australian Constitution contains similar hilarity. ie;
63. The provisions of this Constitution referring to the Governor-General in Council shall be construed as referring to the Governor-General acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council.
64. The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.
Such officers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General. They shall be members of the Federal Executive Council, and shall be the Queen's Ministers of State for the Commonwealth.
Note that the Governor-General may appoint and dismiss members of the Executive Cabinet (Federal Executive Council) and not the Governor-General in Council who must take recommendations from the Prime Minister.
Check out this corker from the Thai interim constitution;
The Prime Minister and Ministers have the right to attend, provide explanations or express opinions during meeting of the National Assembly but cannot vote.
So all power is in the National Security Council, executive and legislative. The Assembly is for the appearance, or the dog and pony show, of a functioning legislative. The interim constitution digs itself in deeper by claiming a permanent state of national security;
Article 11. During a meeting of the National Assembly, any member of the National Assembly has the right to submit a motion to request the Council of Ministers to give statements of fact or explain important problems in connection with the administration of the State affairs. But the Ministers have the right not to give information when considering that the matter should be treated with confidential for the sake of security and interest of the country or when seeing that the motion is not in line with meeting regulations.
When there are important problems, at least 100 members of the National Assembly have the right to submit a motion for a general debate in the National Assembly for the purpose of requesting the Council of Ministers to provide facts and explanations regarding the problems but the members of the National Assembly cannot make a vote of confidence or vote of no-confidence against the Ministers.
It is all pretty poor. Hopefully Thailand gets itself back to representative democracy quickly and forces all the current coup members to resign permanently from the military with the understanding they will not take part in Thai politics again.
Where is that Queenslander and his dog who protested Joh Bjelke-Peterson in the middle of a night at the end of a culd-de-sac when you need him again? The Thai junta is
lifting a ban on political rallies of more than five people
but martial law remains.
The junta has already been mocked by
the tank go-go dancers
before that got banned. Supposedly ending martial law was proposed by the Assembly, but it is without power, and
is just visual window dressing for the power of the National Security Council
Must not be much fun to be a politically aware Thai at the moment. More information:
The Thailand Coup Watch site has in its introduction;
I only know that we are anti-the coup, against the dictatorship. We strongly disagree with the role of Thai military in the politics. We support the democratic parliament, the elected government and the participation of the grassroots people in the decision making process. We want to see the strong political institutions of Thailand without the interference from the military/extraconstitutional power.
Sounds a reasonable expectation and one I agree with.
Not that you would expect anything different
from a junta who rose to power through suspending an existing constitution;
Defence Minister General Boonrawd Somtas says martial law will be lifted next month in all of the country's 76 provinces except for seven - four in the north and three in the troubled south.
The northern provinces have strong support for the deposed Thaksin Shinawatra while the south contains Muslim majorities. Southern Thailand apparently has not industrialised as the north has and remains poor and agricultural in its economy. There has been an insurgency of sorts going on in the south, which has resulted in nearly 1,600 dead since 2004, however there is no leader that the government has identified. It appears to be a decentralised resistance to central rule.
The Muslim-majority region was an independent sultanate annexed by mainly Buddhist Thailand in 1902. Separatist violence has erupted periodically ever since.
Prior to the appearance of Europeans most of modern-day Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand were made up of small sultanates. Some city-states remain, but nearly all the old monarchies and sultanates have been subsumed by the more efficient technologies of the nation-state and state-bureaucracy.
Thailand has a problem: it has a national council running the place which was established through a coup and, despite the presence of an assembly, the national council is the executive and legislative. The other issue is they have a monarch who fancies himself in the policy arena. Neither the council, nor the monarch, have had to compete in the public eye, or face competition from meritorious members of Thai society, in order to have their policies and competency ratified with public approval. In such an environment the first thing to tank will be foreign confidence, usually precipitated by foreign investment leaving the country - the second thing is usually the domestic economy.
The Economist has an article:
. The Economist is mainly interested in market liberalisation so it glosses over the issues of the Thaksin's government - even though those issues should have been solved democratically and not through a military claim to a
state of exception
in the coup.
The Economist writes:
The government's espousal of a "sufficiency economy" theory, developed by King Bhumibol, further fuelled suspicions that it plans a partial retreat from Thailand's hitherto liberal economic stance. No, insisted the prime minister, General Surayud Chulanont, the sufficiency economy "does not by any means imply a rejection of globalisation". So what does it mean? The general was launching a report on Thailand by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which promised to answer that very question. It explains that the sufficiency theory is for sustainability, moderation and broad-based development; and against excessive risk-taking, inequality and other evils.
The king developed his theory during the 1997 Asian economic crisis, when the consequences of years of reckless growth caught up with Thailand. But Thailand's finances are now much more solid and great progress has been made in bringing health care and education to the rural poor--as the royal theory proposes. Like so many generals, the leaders of last September's coup seem to be fighting the last war.
The coup leadership has also restricted foreign ownership of Thai companies and
Central bank penalties imposed last month on foreign investments of less than a year sparked the Thai stock market's biggest slide in 16 years, prompting the rule to be abandoned for equity funds a day later. The controls remain for bonds, real- estate mutual funds and foreign-currency borrowings.
Elected politicians tend to have their political room limited by popular opinion, upcoming elections, a bureaucracy which exists beyond one administration, non political institutions such as the reserve bank and media; as well as constitutionalism which limits the absolute control of any elected member or minister.
Coups and monarchs have no such limits, especially when they are operating in a state of exception. It is seen again and again - state of emergency rule is inefficient, as is political inequality which is established by hereditary or violent means.
Essentially, anyone who would seek to govern by such means is inherently unfit to do so.
The military coup which suspended the Thai constitution occurred in September 2006 - which is eight months ago now. Since then Thailand has been run by a military junta that is operating under a state of emergency. Australia signed a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand
in January 2005.
Prior to the neoconservative policy of pre-emption, the main international method for dealing with powerful nations operating outside of the liberal democratic tradition was through a mix of economic, political and military containment. So what has our policy toward Thailand been?
Alexander Downer in a speech last year
In my portfolio of foreign affairs, the over-riding imperative is of course the national interest, both in security and economic terms.
The key idea or organising principle, however, that guides this imperative and guides our policy is the concept that liberal markets and democracy are the best mechanisms for addressing global problems.
The Howard Government was willing to put some muscle behind that by displacing a dictatorship in Iraq and replacing it with what has become a non-functioning democracy, but I think that was more neoconservative fashion, than any deep-down conviction from the Howard Government.
I think they rate the 'Great and Powerful Friends' doctrine, and its continuance, more important than any deep ideological conviction that democracies should be established by military force.
After September 11th and the flood of US politicking on the issue, I suspect that the neoconservative fashion was adopted in Australia predominantly for electoral advantage.
However that fashion did extend to East Timor, and the ASPI's "Our Failing Neighbour" report led to a mission into the Solomons a week later. It should be noted, that neither of these were done by military force; Australia's diplomatic, military projection and public moral agreement were used to establish these missions without force.
It is fair to say that Australia's commitment to democracy and liberal democratic institutions is political and moral; not military or coercive - with Iraq being the blunder that went against that policy.
Political and moral support, or displeasure, has its limits as well. For instance a small island on our front doorstep with little political power in relation to Australia, Fiji, has flipped between democracy and junta more times than flash Nick from Jindavik. We have been powerless to stop, or even retard that behaviour.
The impetus for democracy is an internal one. Freedom has to come from within, not from without, nor can it be established by external force. Downer in another speech
We need to support the spread of democracy and good governance in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia is an example of what democracy can offer - improved access to justice, a stronger, more open economy, a place where all citizens have a voice and the choice of how, when and where to practice their faith.
Unfortunately it has taken forty years to get to the point and required the Indonesians themselves to oust Suharto's military dictatorship. We supported decolonialisation of Indonesia and the establishment of an Indonesian Republic, but this was subverted by Sukarno.
Then there is the economic problem; do you punish juntas, oligarchies and dictatorships with economic measures? The military containment of Hussein effectively crippled his war-making ability but it was not enough to remove his grip on political power. Sanctions against North Korea have meant that the countryside is in darkness while the dictator enjoys Cadillacs and Harley-Davidsons.
Yet the Tiger Nations, and now China, are built on the Japanese Development-State model which places an autocratic government in charge of an export driven economy. Singapore remains autocratic, Thailand is now a junta, Indonesia is a democracy, as is Taiwan and South Korea, while Japan remains a one-party state.
Economic liberalism gives the middle classes economic freedom, and enough political freedom that they are not impaired economically; but challenges to the state are still put down coercively.
Chile's Pinochet is probably the best example of this, while adopting all the principles of free markets; domestically and politically, he was a tyrannical ogre.
Did Pinochet's embrace of market liberalism lead to Chilean democracy? No. Chile was a democracy prior to Pinochet's coup and dictatorship.
With the Tiger Nations, economic liberalism is not proving a guarantee either. It is fair to say that democratic forms must come from a domestic will to establish them, even in the face of force and coercion.
Which brings us back to a policy for Thailand and the FTA. Should we use it as a carrot or stick?
The three big economies in the region are Australia, Indonesia and Thailand - so dumping the FTA is not to be sniffed at. Given that the military and King of Thailand have a protectionist economic model called the "Sufficiency Economy"
then it might be wise to keep the lever of the FTA there in keeping the Thai market open.
But Thailand is running in a state of emergency which means laws and treaties come under the junta's whim. There is no guarantee the FTA will be honoured should it fail to fit the junta's economic policies.
Thailand does not appear to be threatening to move outside of its borders. The emergency remains domestic, not international, so there is no need to round up support for military, economic and political containment.
I cannot find any news articles recently that mention both Thailand and Alexander Downer. Either; it isn't newsworthy, the government doesn't want to talk about it, or political relations between Australia and Thailand have frozen up.
It is probably a mix of all three, with the latter dominating.
So what to do with the FTA? Leaving it stand is probably the best policy. Australia should continue to pressure the junta to get around to establishing that democratic constitution they say they were going to with the reminder that Thailand had a functioning democratic constitution prior to their coup.
Given the King's idea of economic self-sufficiency, the FTA probably cannot be used as a significant stick to beat the King or junta with. Then again, the Thai business lobby groups may have an interest in seeing it continue, and can pressure the junta over it.
Thailand remains a political problem at the moment, even if it is one off the news radar because of the chaos in Iraq. The junta cannot provide good governance because of their unconstitutional establishment. Their legitimacy is through force and their interest in democratic forms is selfish in nature
Two articles on Thailand; one
an editorial from the WaPo
which argues that the coup in Thailand, and the military's subsequent political management, was a blunder. The other
a perspective in the Bangkok Post by Tunya Sukpanich
which documents the disagreements with the junta's drafting of a new constitution which is less democratic than the prior one.
From the WaPo:
When and if elections finally are held, there will be no way for the military to ensure against another victory by Mr. Thaksin's surrogates, if the vote is free and fair. If another party is propelled into office by manipulation, it may lack the legitimacy to restore confidence in the economy or combat the insurgency.
The only way to purge Thailand of Mr. Thaksin's influence was for his policies to fail and for voters to reject them in an election. That's why the military intervention led the country into a blind alley; an exit will not be easy to find.
From the Bangkok Post:
At the present time much of the public is confused about the draft constitution and the forthcoming general election. Amidst ongoing political conflicts, the general election is considered to be the only solution to guiding the country back to normalcy - with a new government, an elected Parliament and other bodies chosen in a democratic process to run the country.
People tend to believe that they have no real choice but to say yes in the referendum and promulgate the draft charter, so that the general election can follow. One academic noted that the people's hands are being forced to tick yes on the referendum ballot if they want an early election.
Most Popular on South Sea Republic
The articles that have been viewed the most:
Most Popular Restaurants in Phoenix
Phoenix Eats Out
is the restaurant review site for Phoenix
and Old Town Scottsdale
which lists the modernist and contemporary restaurants, taverns and bars in the greater Phoenix area.
This is the list of the most popular restaurants pages from phoenixeatsout.com that have been viewed the most;
My personal favourite restaurants in Phoenix are AZ88
, Humble Pie
, Orange Table
, The Vig
and others coming close behind. View the complete list with the photo-journalistic style images on phoenixeatsout.com
Most Popular Hikes in Arizona
Arizona is an outdoor state and has lots of hiking in the city and around the state. Phoenix is unusual for most cities in having several large mountains in the center of the city with great hiking. Anyone who comes to Phoenix has to do the Echo Canyon trail on Camelback
and the Summit Hike on Squaw Peak
or Piesta Peak. The views of the city, suburbs and surrounding mountains are wonderful from Camelback and Piesta Peak.
For more experienced hikers there is the McDowell Mountains in North Scottsdale that has several difficult and strenuous hikes in Tom's Thumb
and Bell Pass
. Alternatively, you can hike the highest mountain in Arizona. At 12,600 feet Humphrey's Peak
is a long and difficult hike.
Alternate Australian Constitutions
Between 2004 and 2009 this site, southsearepublic.org
, was a constitutional blog based on scoop which focused on Australian and global constitutional issues.
One of the strongest aspects of it was the development of constitutions by those involved in the blog. These constitutions are the outcome:
The constitutions were built using principles from Montesquieu's separation of powers, the enlightnment's universal political rights and the ancient Athenian technology of sortition and choice by lot.
Archives For South Sea Republic
South Sea Republic started in 2004 as an Australian constitutional blog in 2004 based on scoop software. It was an immigrative outgrowth of Kuro5hin. The archives for each year since then;
The articles are ordered by views.
Who Is Cam Riley
I am an Australian living in the United States as a permanent resident.
I am a software developer by trade and mostly work in Java and jump between middleware and front end.
I originally worked in the New York area of the United States in telecommunications before moving to Washington DC and
working in a mix of telecommunications, energy and ITS. I started my own software company before heading out to
Arizona and working with Shutterfly. Since then I have joined a startup in the Phoenix area and am thoroughly enjoying myself.
I do a lot of photography which I post on this website, but also on flickr. I have a photo-journalistic website which lists
the modernist and contemporary restaurants in phoenix. I have a site on the Australian Flying Corps [AFC]
which has been around since the 1990s and which I unfortunately
lost the .org URL to during a life event; however, it is under the www.australianflyingcorps.com
The AFC website has gone through several iterations since the 90s and the two most recent are Australian Flying Corps Archives(2004-2002)
Australian Flying Corps Archives(2002-1999)
which are good places to start.
Websites Worth Reading
Websites of friends, colleagues and of interest;