Coup’s a coup

After seizing power three days ago, General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, the Thai army commander and the leader of the bloodless coup, expressed his intention to appoint a caretaker prime minister within two weeks to oversee the drafting of a constitution and prepare for an election. The revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej legitimised the junta, confirming at least his support to it, though Sondhi claimed that the King had no role at all in the military takeover. The army claims that it had to choose between “stepping back a little (democratically) and the country having no direction at all”. This “necessary pre-emptive strike” constitutes the 18th coup since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Thaksin’s rule left much to be desired. His holding of a general election turned out to be a fiasco as the opposition boycotted it and the courts annulled the results.

The Thai coup has generated more than normal interest in Nepal. This is so because the two countries are monarchies, and the militaries of both have been seen to owe allegiance to their kings rather than to their elected prime ministers. These comparisons have readily come to the minds of many Nepalis who, after the April movement, are now debating whether the retention of the monarchy even in a ‘ceremonial role’ will be compatible with democracy and how the army should be reorganised to eliminate the possibility of army siding with regression. Indeed, the Thai event has tended to strengthen, even though to a small extent, the hand of those who see in a significant role for the monarchy or in its very existence, as well as in any failure to overhaul the Nepali Army, the seeds of future ‘counter-revolution’.

An awareness of this must have led Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to downplay fears of a possible coup in Nepal, too. According to him, the Nepalis have now become sovereign and “I can never believe such a thing can happen in Nepal”. Claiming that the Nepali “political parties were responsible”, he ruled out a Thailand-like political squabbling which had encouraged the Thai military to take power. However, other political leaders have reacted by calling for “sure-fire safeguards”. CPN-UML general-secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal said if the present situation continued indefinitely, a military coup could not be ruled out. While one need not be alarmist, one has yet to be alert and take proper safeguards. The Nepalis are hardly in a position to be complacent about such matters, in view of what has happened during the past half-century. Political leaders’ assurances alone are no guarantee, as, for example, Koirala himself, and the other top two leaders of the Congress, had made the same pledge sixteen years ago. The rest is history. The wisest course would be for the leaders, learning from world history as well as from our own, to resist the temptation to take things for granted and work out a road map which plugs all openings for any political adventurism against democracy and makes such an idea highly risky for any would-be plotters.