Thailand: Coup, Betrayal, Disarray

Whatever drives the Red Shirt movement in Thailand – ideals, anger, money or all three – the worst civil unrest in a generation has made the folly of the 2006 coup to bring down Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's government all the more evident. The blood of the last weeks is on the hands of the many cheerleaders for that coup, the royalist supporters of it and the military itself.

Make no mistake here. I firmly believe that Thaksin is a venal and corrupt figure. His manipulation of the system for his own political ends and his cynical use of the poor to fuel his ambitions had little to do with altruism and everything to do with power. But the cure, if the coup could any longer be called a cure, was far worse than the disease.

Thailand's continuing mayhem might have been temporarily stalled by the actions of the military this week to finally clear the streets of red-shirt protesters, but nothing has been resolved. Thaksin is still stirring the pot from abroad, doubtless using his millions in a bid to bend the movement he created to his advantage. The military's reputation for brutality is again ensured as it often has been in the past. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a good and decent man by most accounts, is likely irretrievably wounded by the government's inept handling of a crisis that it allowed to spiral out of control before it finally moved. The red-shirt leaders themselves failed to accept compromise when it was within reach.

And there is King Bhumibol Adulyadej. If the 82-year-old monarch is awake and functioning – or even alive – his inaction is unforgivable. The fact that he did not move to sort out this mess before the burning and sacking of central Bangkok by angry mobs and combat troops, has shamed the monarchy – perhaps beyond repair. Is he held captive by his privy council? Are medieval forces at work in darkened halls trying to control a world they can no longer comprehend? Of what use is a monarch who cannot help his people?

And what of those people? Surely most people in Bangkok are furious that these northeastern activists disrupted their lives, trashed their gleaming metropolis, burned their neighborhoods and caused an enormous burden.

Then there are the followers of the red-shirt movement, many of them no doubt sincere in their rage. They have seen the governments they vote for dismissed and overthrown by forces they no longer trust. Fed by the propaganda of the Thaksin machine and betrayed by the violent provocateurs in their own midst, their disaffection will only grow.

Whatever threat Thaksin posed to the royalist satraps of Thailand in 2006, their move against him has brought the country into far more peril than one can imagine his government causing. With Bangkok continuing to burn and the unrest spreading north, Thailand finds itself with no institution around which public trust could rally. The prime minister, police, military and the monarchy are all tarnished and in disrepute. This is what the elites did by manipulating the system to their ends in 2006.

Obviously nobody can know where this will end. That Thailand's suffering and disarray may be only just starting seems all too likely.

A. Lin Neumann is one of the founders of Asia Sentinel. He is the editor of the Jakarta Globe.