Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Implications of the Military Takeover in Thailand

Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's prime minister, was ousted in a bloodless military coup d'etat yesterday.

According to this editorial in the Investor's Business Daily, the outcome of the takeover holds serious implications for the fight against terror, most immediately in Thailand, but further abroad as well:

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in Thailand's 20th coup since 1932, has been a staunch supporter of the U.S. in the war on terror. His country also is an important trading partner, with $24 billion in two-way commerce with the U.S. in 2004. He's business-friendly and right now is negotiating a free trade pact with the U.S., something that's likely to beef up Thailand's 4% annual economic growth.

Losing him to unknown military leaders in a nondemocratic coup is not good news. But neither is the parlous state of Thailand's democracy....

What's most disturbing now is that Thailand has real troublemakers, whose perspective is not just local, and who are closely watching this.

This past weekend, Islamofascist terrorists, possibly emboldened by the shaky political situation in Bangkok, unleashed a new offensive in the town of Hat Yai in Thailand's south, setting off a string of bombings that killed four people and injured 80.

The offensive signaled a heightened level in the war on terror not only because it was bigger than previous attacks but because it was outside Thailand's three-province region where most earlier terror attacks have occurred. And for the first time, it killed a Westerner — a Canadian teacher in a tourist area.

Thai observers said that terrorists seemed to be targeting Thailand's economy, taking advantage of Bangkok's political power void in their bid to expand their operating area and influence.

Thailand's potential military rulers, like Gen. Sondhi, (who unexpectedly is a Muslim), vow to make pacification of the south their principle priority.

If they can fill Thailand's political power void with enough military force to bring peace to the south, well and good. But history suggests that force over democracy is an unstable reed, and there is the danger that the Islamofascists may grow bolder still.

Thailand needs normalcy quickly because it must marginalize these Islamofascist terrorists. If they gain, Thailand will lose more than its democracy.
The Thai democratization process has been particularly bloody. Police opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in 1976 and 1992, and the weak consolidation of the country's democratic regime portends additional instability as the nation attempts to find a way back to parliamentary rule.

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