On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Business goes on as usual despite coup

Walking off in a huff, he received a telephone call from a military officer in Bangkok.
"Thaksin here, I am still at the UN, what is this talk about a coup? Tell me what's happening?

"My ministers and generals told me they loved me, hugged me and kissed my hand.
Some even cried before I left, this can't be true, right?" he shouted angrily.

The reply from the other line was: "Sir, they want me to tell you that UN means You End."

Most Thais have taken lightly the dramatic political event of the year. It's business as usual, even on the night of the coup.

One night in Bangkok was literally just a song to the city folk, as bars and clubs continued their business hours.

It was another case of mai pen rai (no worries) even as the army ended the country's 15 years of democracy.

But there is always a price to everything.  The Thais may have got rid of Thaksin, who started off his leadership with a promise to run his country like a chief executive officer of a company.

Thaksin may know how to make millions but he found out the hard way that his authoritarian populism approach did not necessarily win the hearts of many, especially those in the urban areas.

He is now in exile and the people of Bangkok have demonstrated their support of the military government openly.

But these are early days for rejoicing.  Hours after the military takeover, the press found itself muzzled.

The Internet and telephone connections of newspaper companies were cut off shortly after midnight. Most newspapers only appeared in the afternoon even as the world already knew about the coup.

The army has since banned political gatherings and the formation of political parties. It has also banned the free distribution of information about the coup on websites.
As much as the Thais dislike Thaksin, the fact remains that his was a democratically elected government.

Even the media, which has been critical of Thaksin, would agree that Thailand has been a beacon of democracy in this region.

The press has been more vocal and more daring than many of the media in South-East Asia, with the exception of Indonesia perhaps.

The Thai media continued to challenge, even mocked, Thaksin as he became increasingly powerful, even intolerant, after the 2004 elections.

They hurled allegations of corruption, nepotism and executive interference in other branches of power.Using his influence, many journalists were sacked but many continued their campaign, especially those in The Nation group of newspapers.

The military has promised it would appoint a Prime Minister and a Cabinet within a fortnight and an election in a year.

In short, there will only be a "guided democracy" over the next 12 months. It will be the junta that calls the shots.

The civilian politicians would have little clout, that's the reality.

The likelihood is that a new Constitution, to be drafted by the army, would replace the present one.

In reality, the military government is a serious blow to a civil society.  It's a heavy price to pay for the toppling of one man.

As Peter Alford, who wrote in The Australian, aptly pointed out that "they once again raise the spectre of an activist army claiming for itself a warrant to interfere in politics when, to its leaders' judgment, civilians fail the nation."

Last week's coup may have been a bloodless one but it is another blot on Thailand's political stability, or the lack of it.

The job of running a government should be left to politicians while the army's role is to defend the country from external forces.  Not even fighting crime, which is the policemen's responsibility.

The separation of duties and powers must always be constitutionally clear. In the case of Thailand, the latest coup is a serious setback to democracy.

Democrats have reasons to cry although Thaksin is now in exile.