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A new twist in Thailand

Filed under: Asia ~ Thailand

In the 21st century, when all governments to one degree or another are facing challenges to their legitimacy, former Prime Minister Thaksin's politics had been so divisive -- especially in Bangkok -- that the military felt that it could legitimately take power to end the standoff. Tanks and soldiers began roaming the streets, Thaksin fled the country, and the military installed its own prime minister to run the country until and eventual return to democracy.

However, the military has a legitimacy of its own that it must keep. The promises it made, and even those it didn't, are constantly evaluated for performance. Military regimes in general tend to have relatively short lifespans, but those without a coherent message or policy direction go down faster than others. With the Muslim insurgency in the south growing much worse, economic policy off course, civil and political freedoms restricted, and the constant talk of reinstituting emergency laws, its legitimacy is on the wane. Opposition is beginning to mount once again.

Gen. Sondhi has been thinking a lot about the latter lately. Yet he faced rebellion when he brought it up from the very prime minister that he installed to run the government. In fact, not only did the prime minister disagree with the idea, but he took it upon himself to announce on national radio that the emergency laws would not go into effect and elections would be held later this year.
BANGKOK: Thailand's prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, rejected the advice of the general who put him in power, declining on Thursday to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok to clamp down on anti-government protesters and instead promising to hold elections before the end of the year.

"As of now, we will not declare a state of emergency," Surayud told reporters after meeting with General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who led the September coup.

"I gave my opinion that if the situation does not constitute an emergency that jeopardizes the stability of the country, we cannot use that law," Surayud said.

On Wednesday, Sonthi declared that emergency measures were necessary in Bangkok to deal with protesters who have announced numerous rallies for the coming days.

After comments late Wednesday suggesting that he might side with the general, Surayud took the opposite tack: He said he still had the power to declare a state of emergency, which would suspend civil laws, but that the current situation did not merit the move.

Then he set a timetable for the return to democracy.

A referendum on a Constitution currently being drafted would take place no later than September, he said, and elections would be held on Dec. 16 or Dec. 22.
The military has one shot to rule, but as opposition has mounted, a decision to quell protest would be tantamount to crushing its own legitimacy. Interestingly, this announcement should have the same effect without restricting civil liberties. Now that people know when the elections are to be held, there really is no need to organize demonstrations. It was the kind of solution a military government probably didn't even think of.
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