Why does Thailand have so many coups? | CNBC Explains


Thailand is known for its beaches,
streetfood, arts and culture. But it’s also been home to more military coup
d’états than any other country in modern history. Thailand’s political turmoil can be traced
back to 1932 when the first coup took place. The military’s sudden seizure of
power from the government ended centuries of absolute
rule by the monarchy. New Mandala, an academic blog on Southeast
Asian affairs, found Thailand has had 13 successful and 9 unsuccessful coups
in just over a century. The most recent
was in 2014. But, the country’s recent divisive politics,
has been attributed by many to the rise of this man –
Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin’s a telecommunications billionaire
who was elected Prime Minister in 2001. He offered voters incentives like cheap medical
care and debt relief, as well as subsidies for farmers, making him so popular that he
became the first democratically elected Thai prime minister to
serve a full term. He also won re-election
by a landslide in 2005. That spooked powerful senior bureaucrats,
who worked closely with the palace. The following year the Thai military toppled
him in a coup while he was in New York City, about to address
the United Nations. Since then, there’s been a constant tug of war
for power between two bitterly divided camps. They’re called the ‘red shirts’
and the ‘yellow shirts.’ Both have led massive protests, with the
‘yellow shirts’ taking over the Thai Parliament and the airport in 2008, while the ‘red
shirts’ led two months of protests in 2010. The Red Shirts are seen as the voters loyal
to Thaksin, while royalists who opposed him took on the color yellow,
the color of the King. Then in 2014, general Prayuth
Chan-o-cha successfully overthrew the then-Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister. Prayuth has been
in power since. But some political scientists say the
turmoil is about more than just Thaksin. Take for instance the
CoupCast project. It details more than 60 factors that
increase the risk of a military coup. Let’s look at two of these.
The first, a history of having coups. Research shows if countries
have already experienced a coup, they’re more vulnerable
to having another one. Thailand has developed what
experts call a “coup culture.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Thai
culture itself is prone to coups. What it does mean is that there has been
a normalization of military takeovers. They are seen as an acceptable
way to solve a political crisis, and often it’s the public calling
for the military to step in. The second key factor relates to
the country’s form of government. Coup attempts rarely happen in countries
that are fully dictatorial or fully democratic. But those with systems that include a bit
of both, like Thailand, are more susceptible. Since Thailand’s first coup in 1932, the
country has had 29 prime ministers. That’s nearly double the number of presidents
the U.S. has had in that same time period. Throughout these turbulent times the
Thai Monarchy has remained popular. The country has one of the strictest
lese majeste laws in the world, which forbids insult
of the monarchy. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was
crowned in 1950 and was deeply respected throughout
his rein of nearly seven decades. At the time of his death in October 2016, he
was the longest serving monarch in the world. He was succeeded by his only son, King
Vajiralongkorn, who was crowned in 2019. In February, the new king’s older sister
Ubolratana Rajakanya announced she was going to join a party
aligned to the Shinawatra’s, and that she was vying for
the role of Prime Minister. It was a
historic first. A senior royal had never
participated in politics before. And even though the princess no longer had
royal titles following her marriage to a commoner in the 1970s, it still made
international headlines. Some hoped the princess could be the
bridge between the red and yellow shirts. But the King said that her
candidacy was inappropriate. Her nomination was rejected, and the party
that she joined was subsequently dissolved. The following month it was
time for the 2019 election. Even though Thaksin Shinawatra was still in
exile the third incarnation of his political party, now the Pheu Thai
party, won the most seats. It failed however to get an
overall majority and the party’s attempts to form a coalition
government were unsuccessful. Instead parliament elected general
Prayuth Chan-o-cha to the top office, allowing him to continue
to serve as prime minister, despite claims from opposition
leaders that the vote was rigged. It’s been more than five
years since Thailand’s last coup. So, does that mean the country will
break out of its historic cycle? With a new king and new parties springing
up, the world can only wait and see. Hi guys, thanks very much
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