No country does coups quite like Thailand.
On Thursday afternoon I was conducting an interview at the Shangri-La hotel in Bangkok, and of course, one of the main topics of discussion was the recent declaration of martial law in Thailand. My interviewee – a gentleman who has lived in Asia for many years – told me about the time he was in Bangkok during the last coup in 2006, and how people were having their photos taken next to the soldiers and tanks. We both agreed that in the ‘Land of Smiles’, this was typically Thai reaction.
On wrapping up the interview, I strolled to the pier, grabbed a cold Singha, chatted to a couple of American tourists who were taking photos of the river, and finally made my way home. Nothing out of the ordinary.
On arriving home I chatted to my wife for a bit before switching on the TV to find that ‘Rick Stein’s Far East Odyssey’ had been replaced by military music. “What’s going on with the TV?” I asked by wife. “Oh, they’ve done a coup,” she replied casually, as if she was telling me we’d run out of milk.
I checked the international news websites and, sure enough, ‘Thailand Coup – Live!’ Minute-by-minute updates about the shocking developments taking place in Bangkok!
Except the developments weren’t shocking; eyebrow-raisingly surprising perhaps, annoying certainly, but not shocking.
My wife’s reaction was no doubt similar to that of many people in Thailand on Thursday; a sort of weary resignation that the inevitable had happened. This time around there were no smiling tank photos, just a collective sigh – a reluctant acceptance that Thailand has once again succumbed to military rule.
In the West, the thought of the army taking control of a country sparks a sense of fear – the end of civil liberties and the fall of democracy. For Thailand, it seems to be part of the political process.
I’m not saying that the coup is in any way welcome or positive, but for a country that has experienced an average of one coup every 6.9 years since 1932, they can hardly be considered unusual. I’ve had pairs of jeans last longer than that.
On Thursday evening I stood on my balcony with a glass of wine, listening to the party boats cruising up and down the Chao Praya. Judging by the enthusiastic karaoke that was being blared out, the tourists onboard were either completely unaware of the coup or simply didn’t care. They certainly weren’t letting it stand in the way of their rendition of ‘YMCA’.
Thailand is called the ‘Land of Smiles’ for good reason. But following Thursday’s development, it seems to have become the ‘Land of Sighs’ – a place where people simply accept political upheaval as part of life. It’s a shame, but for the long-suffering Thai people, that’s just the way it is.