It’s ridden with clichés and won’t tell you anything that you wouldn’t have already known from reading this blog, but this obituary to Koizumi’s political career, written by the Northeast Asia bureau chief of the Washington Post, was at least kind enough to call the outgoing prime minister a “Jedi Knight.”
Soldiers stand guard with unclipped rifles across from Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, built after a 1932 coup brought constitutional monarchy to Thailand, then known as Siam. That was the first of more than 20 that have occurred since that time, though the last coup in 1992 was supposed to be the last since the popular demand for democracy had grown so strong since an uprising in 1973 made them impossible to ignore.
The soldiers gladly allowed us to photograph them. In fact, they’ve been ordered to “keep smiling” and stay friendly as part of the effort to put a positive face on this bloodless coup, which has astonishingly enough been carried out in the name of democracy (a concession that speaks to the high expectations among the public to maintain the democratic institution that has built up over the last 15 years). Still, after four days of ingratiating themselves to the public, including scores of foreign tourists such as myself, the soldiers have started to look a little less than eager to enlighten us on the democratizing power of military force:
Now, don’t get me wrong – the dynamics of this coup d’etat are not as simple as elected government good, military coup bad, as writers for the Washington Post might have you believe. But for me, as someone whose idea of democracy is primarily a) Democrats vs. Republicans, and secondarily b) Mori Faction vs. ex-Tanaka Faction battling to please their bureaucrat overlords, the very likely explanation that Thaksin was planning a coup of his own and that the military’s commitment to democracy far exceeds that of the corrupt Thaksin’s (as indicated by Mango Sauce) is confusing. But what I do know that the political stability since the early 90s was a humongous boon for Thailand, and getting things back on track will be key if Thailand wants to maintain its status as the most developed major nation in SE Asia.
In the meantime, ironic scenes such as the one in the first picture will no doubt abound as long as this junta lasts. At least the Bangkok Post hasn’t lost its loopy sense of humor:
Two kinds of power
Armoured tanks can both destroy buildings and enchant children
People crowd the Royal Plaza to catch a glimpse of the tanks stationed there to keep the peace on orders of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy.
A vendor is about to hand a balloon to a young buyer at the Royal Plaza yesterday.
ZAKZAK, never a letdown, has run an article that quotes political/financial fortuneteller known as the “Onmyoji of Nagatacho” (whose sessions start at 30,000 yen) Shoken Fujitani’s predictions for who should go in Abe cabinet. While I don’t understand his system (it’s based on the fact that Abe was born aligned with Mercury in the year of the Horse ), I’ll note his results here so we can come back on Tuesday to see how close he was:
People who are compatible with Abe:
Foreign Minister Taro Aso
Previous Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura (Has good “overseas luck”)
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Shoichi Nakagawa
Lower House Member Sanae Takaichi (connection to culture i.e. Education Ministry)
Lower House member Yasuhiro Shiozaki (pictured below dining with old people for Respect for the Aged Day):
Lower House member (one of the “female assassin” candidates from last year’s election) Satsuki Katayama
Lower House member Yuko Obuchi (daughter of former PM the late Keizo Obuchi)
People who aren’t compatible with Abe:
LDP Policy Council Chairman Hidenao Nakagawa (who made some enemies as a diehard pusher of Koizumi reforms)
METI Minister Toshihiro Nikai. Here he is giving Koizumi and companions the classic fakeout (What the hell is that? – Huh? – … See ya!):
Ex-PM Yoshiro Mori (but then again no one’s compatible with Mori)
Lower House member Yukari Sato (another “female assassin” candidate that was less well-received than Katayama)
Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru
and finally… Koizumi himself!
I have no clue how much stock people actually put in these predictions, but Japan tends to be much more superstitious than the US and they certainly hold enough value to be featured in a trashy tabloid. In politics as well as every day life inauspicious days are usually avoided for major events and traditional superstitions (such as blood type personality distinctions) are usually respected if not wholeheartedly accepted. In one famous episode (as described in Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons), bankers gathered in large numbers to an Osaka fortune teller’s home so they could touch her ceramic toad and hear her stock picks. Japan certainly isn’t anywhere near as bad as Burma, where the ruling junta moved the whole capital on the advice of feng sui experts, but nevertheless a man like Fujitani has been able to make a good living with his essentially baseless political predictions. His list of “accurate predictions” includes warning former PM Keizo Obuchi not to make the incompatible Hiromu Nonaka in his Chief Cabinet Secretary or else he would “risk his life” (he later died of a stroke while in office).
These assessments seem less like astrology and more of a “who’s hot and who’s not” of Japanese politics. Pretty safe choices. We’ll come back on Tuesday to see how he did.
This is by no means meant to be a generalization. There are plenty of women here who are interesting and fun conversationalists. There are plenty who don’t look all that hot. But the cute and mindless type seem to end up with young urban Tokyoite guys pretty frequently. To quote my boss, “you have to take them out to really nice restaurants, so the quality of the food will keep you from falling asleep.”
The official translation:
“Many thanks to you all
For all your support
Many thanks to you all
For all your encouragement and cooperation
Words of thanks are not enough to express my gratitude”
My more literal translation before seeing the official one:
for supporting me
I have only appreciation
for your encouragement
Isn’t it just horribly lame, like the kind of thing you write in the high school yearbook of someone that you had a lot of classes with but aren’t actually close enough with to bother actually keep in touch?
Got this in my inbox today. It pretty much describes the situation on the ground… which is to say that nothing much has changed since before the coup except some businesses were closed yesterday and the rest of the world seems completely shocked:
PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT – THAILAND
1. This Public Announcement is being issued to alert U.S. Citizens traveling to and residing in Thailand to the recent military coup in Thailand. This Public Announcement expires December 19.
2. On September 19 a military group calling itself the Council for Democratic Reform Under the Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) seized control of the Thai government and declared martial law. The CDRM banned any political gathering of more than five persons. The CDRM also banned the hoarding of goods or the increasing of the price of goods of any kind. The CDRM announced it will appoint a civilian government within two weeks as the first step to returning the country to democratic government.
3. The military deployed troops around key government facilities and other strategic locations, but there is little visible military presence elsewhere. There have been no indications or reports of any violence at this time.
4. Road traffic throughout the country continues to flow normally, although at reduced volumes. Public transportation is in service and all airports and most border crossings appear to be operating as normal. There have been reports of difficulty crossing the border with Burma at Mae Sot and Ranong. Americans who are scheduled to fly into or out of Thailand in the coming days are encouraged to contact their airline to ensure that the flight schedule has not been changed.
5. Given the fluidity of the current situation, the Department of State advises all American Citizens in Thailand to continue to monitor events closely, to avoid government installations and any large public gatherings and to exercise discretion when moving about.
And so on. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has managed to make the situation in Thailand somehow all about the United States:
Ideals and Realities Clash In Bush ‘Freedom Agenda’
At the United Nations lectern this week, President Bush hailed the spread of democracy. “From Beirut to Baghdad,” he said, “people are making the choice for freedom.” Yet even as he spoke, tanks were rolling through the streets of Bangkok as a military coup toppled the elected leader of Thailand, who at that moment was in New York for the U.N. session.
Should the president be held accountable if General Sonthi decides to overthrow the government? No kind of pressure or engagement by the US would have made any difference.
Oddly enough, Thaksin was seen by a lot of people as enough of a tyrant to warrant a coup, as a more sensible WP article illustrates:
“Democracy has won!” said an ecstatic Orathai Dechodomphan, 59, a tailor and Thaksin opponent who joined hundreds of people handing out roses to soldiers near the army headquarters. “Thaksin tried to steal power and did not respect our king. He never would have left on his own. What happened yesterday is our first step toward recovering a real democracy.”
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was seen by many here as having effectively allowed Thaksin’s removal, endorsed Sonthi, appointing him the official head of a new governing council charged with creating “peace in the country,” according to an announcement televised nationally.
Sonthi is close to the king, and there had been speculation that the monarch played a role in the coup. Sonthi dismissed those suggestions Wednesday, telling reporters: “I am the one who decided to stage the coup. No one supported me.”
It was an odd situation. The Prime Minister refused to step down in the face of massive “people power” protests that attempted to exert pressure on him outside the electoral system. They claimed that he had basically bought support among rural districts, making it impossible to simply vote him out. And when the king specifically told Thaksin to step down, he said he would only to reemerge as a “caretaker” prime minister between elections.
In such a quagmire, I can understand the Thai people’s relief to see a military that is seen as respecting the king put the conflict down without bloodshed. But Thai people can’t rely on benificent rulers forever. The king is old and his successor might not be as skilled at negotiating compromises that keep the country running smoothly, and there’s no guarantee that a future military coup will be so keen to talk the talk about democracy.
The Nation, an English-language Thai newspaper, stresses the cost of this coup:
Military intervention in a democratic system is always a “bad habit” that may stick if we once again allow ourselves the illusion that this will be the last time this dose of strong medicine is required to cure a serious disease.
Even if the first declaration from coup leaders sounded uncharacteristically apologetic (“Forgive us for the inconvenience caused”), once a political precedent of such proportion is set, it invariably stays. True democracy means never allowing coup leaders the excuse to stage their next exercise, even if they say they are sorry for their previous one.
In other words, if we can’t devise an effective system to get rid of a despot through constitutional means, that means we haven’t really graduated beyond the basics of democracy.
To end on a lighter note, there’s a Sgt. in the Army who has admitted involvement in the possibly staged assassination attempt on Thaksin about a month ago. How he can wear a knitted hat in freaking Thailand I don’t know, but he looks good in it nonetheless: