Although in through the backdoor, the army is now the legitimate government in Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s endorsement of the election of General Prayut Chan-Ocha, the army chief, as prime minister completes a process that was set rolling in May, when the army-controlled National Council of Peace and Order upstaged the caretaker government of the Pheu Thai Party. The coup ended months of violent street protests against the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. With the anointment of the army chief as prime minister, the royalists, or the Yellow Shirt agitators, may be said to have achieved their mission. They had fervently hoped for the army to step in and for ‘reforms’ to be undertaken before Thailand could go for elections again. That is precisely what the new administration has in mind. Before the promised elections by end 2015, Thailand will have a new Constitution written by a reform council handpicked by the army. This has been done before, as in 2006, after the army removed the Thaksin Shinawatra government. It could not stop the political tide turning in favour of the Shinawatras in 2011. And yet, the royalist traditional elite and the urban middle class in Thailand, who scoff at the populism of the Shinawatras, are hell-bent on trying the same formula again.
At their service is the ever-obliging army, which has attempted to redress the fine political balance in the country at least 18 times before. The ostensible objective of these interventions is to preserve the sanctity and honour of Thailand’s royalty. But somewhere along the way, Thailand’s army has come to believe in its own indispensability to the life of the nation. Every time Thailand’s politics has veered from what the army saw as the ‘correct’ path of democracy, it has, through means fair and foul, set the order right. The result is a democracy that remains in perpetual infancy. In countries all over the world, where armies suffer from the delusion of being the sole arbiter of the fate of the nation, democracy remains in such a stunted form. What is true for Thailand today could turn out to be true for Pakistan tomorrow.