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Home / Asia / Deja Coup: A Brief History of Thailand’s Juntas and Military Regimes

Deja Coup: A Brief History of Thailand’s Juntas and Military Regimes

Here we go again.  source

Here we go again.

The Thai political crisis that erupted in late 2013 had only one realistic outcome. The nation was adamant that they could finally separate their military from their national affairs, and that another military coup would not have to occur in the wake of the tensions. Yet this assertion is somewhat idealistic for Thailand, a country which has experienced ten government replacements, courtesy of the military. It would seem the cycle is somewhat unbreakable.

On the 22nd of May Prayuth Chan-ocha took it upon himself to relieve Thailand of their corrupt and shabby politics by installing a junta, which is rather ironically named the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The next day the NCPO announced that it is determined to crackdown on Thailand’s nefarious politicians, and wipe the filthy slate of Thai politics clean once and for all.

It also took the courtesy of assigning government ministries their very own unelected members to help the transition of Thailand run much smoother under their collected guidance. They announced there targets for the future of Thailand in such a passionate manner, that even Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s King, endorsed their heroic campaign and gave full support to Prayuth as Thailand’s saving grace. These aims, are not only idealistic for the NCPO to announce, but considering what the NCPO is, also completely ridiculous.

A Look Back

Before getting into detail about this particular junta’s existence, we have to look back into the past and see the similarities between this coup and the many coups of Thailand’s past. Does the NCPO really present any hope for a change in Thailand? or is it merely a clone of coup’s through which the face of Thailand was changed for the worse.

Thailand is a country in which it’s modern history is based on a coup which changed the whole formation of its government. The 1932 Siamese coup could be seen as more of a revolution. It resulted in the transformation of Thailand into a constitutional monarchy as opposed to the absolutist monarchy which had previously dominated Thailand. This notorious liberation of Thailand is perhaps what the NCPO would like to achieve in the sense that they cleanse Thailand of a history which is arguably as oppressive as the monarchy.

Yet again, military coups are not by nature “liberating” for the most part, and Thailand has seen its fair share of military dictators. The second coup in 1947 was the first huge step backwards. This coup saw Thailand establish Field Marshal Phibun as a dictator, and legitimised the future action of the military to act in the “best interests” of the nation. Under this dictatorship the monarchy once again grew in power, making it seem as if the 1932 revolution meant nothing.

This was put to an end in 1951 with another military coup known as the “Silent Coup” through which the 1932 constitution that had originally weakened the monarchy was reinstated. The Silent Coup was good for democratic progress in Thailand, but it also gave the military a stronger hold on the political make up of the nation. These two coups shook Thailand tremendously, and it’s crucial that the people remember this period of their history whilst the NCPO have power. It would seem impossible for the military to have an even more intertwined relationship with the political, yet one can never predict the tremendous effect a junta could have on the future of a nation, especially a nation with Thailand’s history.

After these two defining periods in Thailand’s history, Thailand became accustom to the army being very much synonymous with political life. Military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn took advantage of this the most, rising to power in 1963 and maintaining a brutal rule till 1973. He is also responsible for the infamous Thammasat University massacre of 1976.

The new boss, Prayuth Jan-ocha. source

The new boss, Prayuth Jan-ocha.


Brutality of this sort is unlikely to be seen within the NCPO’s rule. The NCPO are sincere about what they would like to see change within Thailand, yet the issue is that the state of politics within Thailand can’t be changed by the force that has consistently meddled with it throughout its history. The international reaction to the coup was overwhelmingly negative.

Many nations expressed concerns about the actions taken by the Thai military, which had assured that its role would be as minimal as possible. And there are signs that the NCPO are willing to take a very hardline approach to changing the nations framework, installing a curfew between 22:00 – 05:00 and banning all political gatherings, and dispersing protestors.

The future looks all the more pessimistic for Thailand due to these tell tale signs. The junta is unlikely to turn into a full blown military dictatorship, there is certainly an ambition that is looking to be fulfilled by the NCPO with regards to the state of the country. Yet to say the NCPO are going about it the wrong way would be a drastic understatement.

Acting in an undemocratic, authoritarian manner does not give off the impression that the junta is being serious about reform, it gives off the impression that they are yet another problematic junta. A junta is not needed to change the politics of Thailand, what is needed is further cooperation with the people of Thailand through a body that has no connection to the military. Telling the people what to do just reinforces the status quo, and will inevitably lead to a recurring coup the next time a political crisis takes hold, no matter how efficient or effective the reforms are.

For once the Thai people would not feel like they are being bullied. Prayuth has recently retired from his post in the army to take control as head of the government, yet the link he has to the army cannot be broken through a resignation, as it runs much deeper than that. This has been a trend with many Thai prime ministers coming from the army, and it does not look like it will be broken anytime soon, particularly with another junta appearing to try and rid Thailand of its many problems. It would seem that dispelling the Shinawatra’s will have no real effect at all.


About Cameron Rogers

Cameron Rogers is Head of the Asian Affairs Desk at the International Citizen. He is studying International Politics at Kings College London, and will spend time studying at Keio University, Yonsei University and the University of Hong Kong in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong respectively.
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