Order and Chaos: Military Government and the Middle Classes in Thailand
Since the Thai military was reorganized along Western lines in the 1880s, there have been 19 coup attempts, 12 of them resulting in the overthrow of the government. Thai political scientist Chai-Anan Samudavanija has characterized this pattern as a ‘vicious cycle’ where following a military coup, there has been a period of military rule, followed by the writing of a constitution, the holding of an election, a ‘honeymoon’ period for the new legislature, then rising tensions and another coup. While this pattern has held for over 80 years now, there are two other linked patterns that have received less attention. First, the periods of rule for soldiers and civilians reversed after the 1973 democratic uprising, with civilian governments lasting longer than military governments. Military governments had become truly interim, governing on average for only a year. Second, beginning in 1932, virtually every military regime governed with the assistance of civilian allies. The current military regime has marked a large step backward on both these latter patterns, with the army commander taking on the prime ministership himself, appointing a cabinet made up almost entirely of senior military officers, and then staying in power for a longer time than any military government since the 1960s. What do we make of this shift? I will argue that the Thai military has come to associate democracy with chaos and has sought to promote that perception. It seeks to impose greater military-style order on society, by creating a more lasting government of generals, and has plans to perpetuate that military-style order into the foreseeable future, even as it plans elections and a return to civilian rule. This chapter will explore the implications of that attitude for the future of democracy in Thailand.
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