Thailand’s military has staged at least 11 coups in the past 80 years, a record that has held the country back politically and economically.
Whether the army’s declaration Tuesday of martial law will add to that sorry score is not yet certain. Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha did not unseat the sitting civilian government. The Associated Press quoted him as saying that he “will try not to violate human rights — too much.”
That’s not reassuring, particularly in view of the military’s record of siding against the populist movement of Thaksin Shinawatra, whom it overthrew in its last coup, in 2006. If the army’s intention is, as some fear, to facilitate an anti-democratic movement that wants to appoint an unelected government, then Tuesday’s events will qualify as another coup — and should provoke a strong reaction from the United States and other democracies.
The Obama administration, whose hesitation to label Egypt’s military coup as a coup last year helped propel that country toward another dictatorship, has been sending the right message to Thailand. A State Department spokesperson said the administration expects the military “not to undermine democratic institutions” and underlined “the need for elections to determine the will of the Thai people.”
If the generals do not respect those principles, the administration should not hesitate to apply U.S. law mandating the suspension of military aid and cooperation.