Thailand’s Generals in a Corner; Rule by fear risks repeating the darkest hours of Thai history

Thailand’s Generals in a Corner

Rule by fear risks repeating the darkest hours of Thai history.

May 29, 2014 12:39 p.m. ET

The military coup in Bangkok is getting nastier by the day, as the army continues preemptively to lock up academics, journalists and opposition politicians. At least 250 people have been detained since last week, although perhaps half have since been released and spokesmen say the remainder are being treated well.

Criticism of the junta is now a crime. Universities have been told not to hold any political events. Gatherings of more than five people are banned. Reporters were told to ask easier questions of their new rulers. Facebook FB +0.50% was briefly blocked on Wednesday. Meanwhile protests made up of hundreds of people continue to occur daily, including Thursday at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.

The Thammasat campus is a significant venue because the military massacred about 100 students and other protesters there in October 1976, an event that led to nationwide killings and repression. While the situation in Thailand now is different, some Thais are drawing parallels to that period. Those who have criticized the military in the past now fear for their safety and are preparing to leave the country, at least temporarily.

Their fears may yet prove unwarranted, but they are not irrational. The generals claim unlimited powers in the name of national unity; nobody can hold them accountable. They have backed themselves into a corner so that any criticism must be silenced before they can hand power back to a civilian government that will grant them amnesty. The fact that criticism keeps coming suggests the coup will lead to a prolonged period of military rule.

Former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang refused an order to surrender and gave a speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Tuesday calling for new elections. He predicted that rather than damping down political conflict, this coup will exacerbate it. As he finished, he was pulled from the stage by soldiers and taken away. The junta says he and others will be tried in a military court without defense counsel for breaking martial law.

We should be clear, given Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, that King Bhumibol Adulyadej is not responsible for this dangerous situation. In recent years he has said that he should not be above criticism, and opposed an appointed prime minister to replace the elected government. The Thai generals who claim to serve him have ignored his instructions.

The result is likely to be huge economic losses and a further blow to the military’s prestige. After the 2006 coup, the junta appointed retired Gen. Surayud Chulanont to run the country. But other generals continually interfered, and the country veered toward economic nationalism. Corruption also worsened, which was especially damaging because that had been the main justification for overthrowing the elected government.

The military has not yet revealed its government lineup, but a 10-member advisory board announced Wednesday was heavy on generals, including the leaders of the 2006 coup. Thailand seems to be condemned to go on repeating the worst episodes of its past. The generals are intent on ruling by fear, but as Thais continue to resist they risk a showdown worse than that in 1976.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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