The military effort to coerce enough Thais into approving the August 7 national referendum on a new constitution appears to have backfired. Even the royalist and nationalist politicians who backed the 2011 coup are now openly calling on the generals to back off. The pro-military parties (yellow shirts) that lost the national elections in 2011 used their continued control of the courts and the military to outlaw the elected government (“red shirts”) after which the army stepped in to “keep the peace”. This was not a unique event in Thai history but most Thais are fed up with the coups. There have been twelve of them in the last 80 years, since a constitutional monarchy replaced the centuries old absolute monarchy.
The royals have learned to keep their heads down during the coups, even though the military has always been staunchly royalist. What the coups have done is make the military leadership more ambitious every time they pull one off. Where the military has run into problems is with their vaguely defined plans to enact “reforms” and amend the constitution to avoid another political crises requiring a coup. Unable to shut down or control Internet access popular resistance to the new pro-military constitution grew and spread. A growing number of yellow shirt politicians who initially backed the coup are appalled at the extent of the military crackdown. This includes calling in those planning open opposition (meetings. information centers, Internet activity) to warn that if they carry out their plans they will be arrested for attempting to cause “instability.” That approach to maintaining order has been unpopular with most Thais.
The new constitution gives the military more power, all in the name of national defense as well as future stability. Most Thais, and even long-time allies (like the United States) and even the UN have criticized granting the military more power. Despite that troops continue hunting down and arresting those who post criticism (real or imagined) of the military or the monarchy. There is general agreement within the military that the public is more hostile to the military than ever before and there is likely to be a backlash once democracy is restored. Now the generals are facing the backlash from many of their political supporters before the referendum even takes place. It’s not just the new constitution that has people nervous. The military government efforts to befriend China, a powerful neighbor that has always preferred to do business with authoritarian governments, is not popular. The main reason for this pro-China policy is the fact that China is still a communist police state. The communism angle has atrophied in China but the police state is thriving. Historically China has rarely been a threat to Thailand and never a serious one. Because of that Thai leaders have always been willing to make deals with the Chinese, but on Thai terms. The military government of Thailand offers China diplomatic support, which is useful as China takes on a largely hostile world because of claims on most of the South China Sea. China, of course, does not criticize the police-state methods increasingly used in Thailand to deal with political opponents.
The new constitution is supposed to protect the military because the generals believed they had enough supporters to block a later effort to revoke the new constitution. That assumption is now in doubt. All this is about Thai generals noting what is happening next door in Burma, where the military allowed elections in 2011 after nearly fifty years of military rule. Despite “guarantees” in the new Burmese constitution most Burmese still want to punish their generals for crimes committed during decades of military rule and continuing bad behavior by active and retired officers. The Thai generals have promised new elections in 2017 if the new constitution is approved. What happens if the constitution is not approved is less certain.
Meanwhile the military government has been unable to kick-start the economy, largely because most of the usual foreign investors and customers are backing away from the pro-China military government. The generals have also failed to end the violence in the south. Although the generals maintained contacts with some of the separatist groups in the three largely Moslem provinces in the south nothing much has changed. While some discussions have been held both sides admit that no progress has been made. Another problems is that some of the separatist groups refuse to even to discuss a peace deal. The separatist groups willing to discuss terms for talks and peace have been unable to trust the military government to keep any deals made because it is understood that democracy will eventually return.
June 6, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) Islamic terrorists set off two bombs, which damaged a public library and an electric company office. Islamic terrorists were also believed responsible for shots fired at a rural electric power transformer and setting a fire near a bridge. All of this violence caused no injuries and no serious property damage.
Elsewhere in the south (Narathiwat province) Islamic terrorists using an assault rifle and riding a pickup truck, fired at a group of villagers digging a well. Four people were wounded, including a local defense volunteer, who may have been the main target of the attack. Such intimidation attacks are increasingly common as more and more of the Moslem majority down there turn neutral or pro-government, just to bring peace and get the local economy growing again.
June 5, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) Islamic terrorists, using an AK-47 and riding a motorcycle, fired at a policeman standing outside a store. They wounded the cop but hit five civilians as well. This was believed to have been retaliation for a recent attack on an Islamic terrorist camp in the area.
June 2, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) a combined force of fifty soldiers, police and local defense volunteers raided a remote Islamic terrorists camp, killed four Islamic terrorists, seized weapons and ammo and destroyed the many (nearly twenty) structures found. Local police and troops were alerted to set up checkpoints and look for wounded Islamic terrorists who may have fled as well as unwounded Islamic terrorists trying to pass as civilians. Local defense volunteers can often spot the strangers and have them held for questioning. Often the police find these suspects are wanted.
June 1, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) police raided a rural camp used by Islamic terrorists and killed five of the armed men they found there. One policeman was killed in the brief firefight and several Islamic terrorists got away.
May 21, 2016: South of Bangkok (the Sattahip naval base) a thousand sailors and marines from China and Thailand began a joint training exercise. This event will last until June 9th. It is part of the Thai military seeking to find new allies. At the moment Thailand has had many of its usual military connections with the West suspended because of Western opposition to the military coup. The Thai generals were not surprised at the subsequent Chinese offers to replace their Western allies and suppliers. The Thai military is now rushing out to replace its largely Western weapons and equipment with Chinese models. But there are other ways to cooperate with China in a military sense. This includes intelligence sharing and joint training. Thailand has also won praise in China for arresting and sending back to China pro-democracy advocates who fled persecution in China. The Thais are sending back any Chinese citizens China wants.