Sunday, May 25, 2014

Thailand: Update--Military Cracks Down Those Who Protest, Secretary Kerry Should Rethink Suspension of $3.5 Million in Aid

According to Reuters, Thailand's military tightened its grip on power on Sunday (May 25) as it moved to quell growing protests, saying anyone violating its orders would be tried in military court.

It also took its first steps to revitalize a battered economy, saying nearly a million farmers owned money under the previous government's failed rice-subsidy scheme would be paid within a month.

The military overthrew the government on Thursday (May 22) after months of debilitating and at times violent confrontation between the populist government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, and the royalist establishment.
 
Critics say the coup will not end the conflict between the rival power networks: the Bangkok-based elite dominated by the military, old money families and the bureaucracy, and an upstart clique led by Yingluck's brother and former telecommunication mogul Thaksin Shinawatra, 64. The Shinawatras draw much of their influence from the provinces.

The military has detained numerous people including Yingluck and many of her ministers, party officials and supporters. Leaders of six months of anti-government protests against Yingluck have also been held. The military said they will be freed within a week.

The military has negated the Constitution, censored the media and dismissed the upper house Senate, Thailand's last functioning legislature.

On Sunday, it said anyone accused of insulting the monarchy or violating its orders would face military court.

COMMENT: Power now lies in the hands of army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta known as the National Council for Peace and Order, and their priorities appeared to be stamping out dissent and tending to the economy.

In his first public comment since the coup, Thaksin said on his Twitter feed he was saddened by what had happened and he called on the army to treat everyone fairly. 

Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile since a 2008 graft conviction and was himself ousted by the military in 2006.

A rice-subsidy scheme organized by Yingluck's government failed, leaving huge stockpiles of the grain and farmers are owed more than $2.5 billion. A military spokesman said it was hoped farmers would begin to get paid in one or two days and every farmer would be paid in a month.

A military official also told 18 newspaper bosses that King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Monday (May 26) endorsed Prayuth as leader of the ruling military council, a significant formality in a country where the monarchy is the most important institution.

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as his father, but some Thaksin supporters have recently been making a point of showing their loyalty to the Prince in order to "suck up" to potential allies.

The military has instituted a 2200-0500 hours curfew until further notice.

In the first quarter of the year, the economy shrank 2.1%. Thais are not spending money, and consumer sentiment fell to a 12-year low in the months before the coup.

The United States condemned the coup. The US State Department has suspended about $3.5 million in military aid, including military  training. 

On the flip-side, Secretary of State John Kerry should be strategically prudent. If the military  junta becomes annoyed at the US for suspending foreign assistance, they could very easily seek military relationships with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and China, which could back-fire in Kerry's face, and prove to be a proliferation in the global arms race.

It would have been far better for Kerry to simply send a Diplomatic Note to the Thai Foreign Ministry expressing displeasure for the junta's actions, rather than suspending military assistance.