Bangkok once the speedy growing capital city of Thailand, struggles to live as normal after  its 18t

Bangkok once the speedy growing capital city of Thailand - struggles to live as normal after its 18th coup. (Photo: Kannikar Petchkaew)

Which country has had more coups than any other country in modern history?

The answer is Thailand. Yes, in the land of smiles there have been 18 attempted coups since 1932. The last one was just two years ago.

So what is it about Thailand that makes it so prone to coups?

Join Kannikar Petchkaew, our Thailand correspondent in finding the answer.

In the modern history of Thailand, there have been 18 attempted coups – but only 11 have been successful. 

The latest coup introduced a curfew and martial law, but both have since been lifted.

It’s been two years now under strict junta rule, of people being detained, and banned from political activities, such as public gatherings. 

Others have been slapped with travel bans. 

It’s no surprise then, that many have already fled the country.

In 1932, Thailand moved from absolute monarchy to democratic rule. 

But since then it has endured 11 successful military coups and seven failed attempts. That’s a least one attempted coup per decade, and enough to see Thailand top the global coup d’etat list.

Low levels of education and poor knowledge of democracy is the usual explanation offered.

“We have conducted surveys in every village, asked the villagers if they know anything about democracy. They said they don’t know. They even barely know the charter drafters,” says Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army general turned current junta leader. He’s talking about the new Constitutional Drafting Committee.

The Thai people, he believes, are not really informed about what goes on in their government.

“I would ask the one who is mowing the lawnout there if they know anything. How many farmers know about this? They just struggle to make ends meet everyday. They were made to be poor. Do they know anything? 

But not everyone shares the same view.

“To suggest the villagers are not informed about the electoral process is insulting to the villagers. Thai villagers have a long history of voting for their own leadership,” says Katherine Bowie, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Bowie has been conducting her research in Thai villages for the past 40 years.

Bowie continues, “What Thailand should be very proud of is its very long history of village-level democracy. In an article that I wrote earlier I traced the last governing electoral politics at the village level back to 1987 and I argued that Thailand is the first country in the world where both man and woman have the right to vote. Women had the right to vote without any controversy.”

Pasuk Pongpaijit, an economics professor has spent the past two decades focusing on corruption in Thailand. She says,

“We have many coup d’etats and we still have big problem about corruption. It proves that it doesn’t help at all.”

The junta has often spoken of the need to clean up corruption, not only among the nation's politicians, but society at large.

Pongpaijit continues, “In fact the government that comes after a coup d’etat often changes or introduces institutions that tend to obstruct the process of allowing corruption to be managed properly.”

From her findings, corruption rises every time the checks and balance system is set aside –something that can happen often when there is so many coup d’etats.  

“It’s only after the coup when the government gets overthrown that we get to know what went on behind the scenes. Like in the case of military dictators in the 1970s, all of them get explored about their corruption after they were overthrown,” according to Pongpaijit.

For Pongpaijit and Bowie, blaming the Thai people and corruption is standard practice for any military takeover in Thailand.

But could there be another explanation?

Yukti Mukdawijit is a lecturer at a leading Thai university. He says it could be about how resistant the Thai elite are to change.

“The people themselves, they are ready. They learn more, they gain power more from the process of democratization, the participation of power. In this direction I think it becomes a threat to the power of the elite. The establishment cannot stand it.”

Pongpaijit adds,The fear of parliamentary democracy in this country, is also related to the fear of losing the power from limited of oligarchy group of people, to a large population. It’s that fear.”


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