Unity in Thailand rests on fairness for all sides
Thailand's coup leaders are firmly in charge, bringing to an end the disruptive and violent protests that hurt the economy and prevented the government from doing its work. They have detained dozens of politicians and activists and imposed a night-time curfew and media censorship. Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who now leads the country, has made political reform a priority, although what that will involve has yet to be articulated. By far, his biggest challenge will be uniting the highly divided nation.
The coup has deepened divisions. While the military's intervention has ended gridlock in politics and protests in Bangkok, it has been perceived by supporters of the ousted government of Yingluck Shinawatra as benefiting the opposition demonstrators. The circumstances are similar to the last coup in 2006, which removed Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, as premier. Unsurprisingly, the coup has been praised by the opposition, which comprises royalists and Bangkok's business elite and middle class, but rejected by the Shinawatras' rural support base.
Bringing the sides together is a necessity if Thailand is to move confidently forward and prosper. But while the junta has spoken of unity, it has so far failed to mention democracy. The electoral appeal of the Shinawatras through populist policies centred on economic growth and grass-roots development has given them resounding wins at every poll since 2001. The main opposition Democrats, unable to come up with a vote-winning formula, have resorted to undemocratic means of taking power; demonstrations that have brought life and government to a standstill in Bangkok have now succeeded four times.
The declining health of the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is a factor; his backing of the coup on Monday gave it legitimacy, but his likely successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, does not garner such respect. Democracy and a free and fair market economy are the only way forward. Prayuth speaks of unity, but that can only come with fairness.