Thai Junta Compares its Coup to Burma's 1988 Crackdown

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre 4 July 2014

BANGKOK — Thailand’s military on Friday compared its seizure of power in May to restore stability after months of unrest to the brutal crackdown by Burma’s former junta in 1988 to snuff out a pro-democracy movement.

Thailand’s military justified its intervention by the need to restore stability after months of unrest and demonstrations by pro and anti-government protesters.

Perhaps unwittingly, the deputy chief of the Thai junta likened its seizure of power to one of the darkest chapters in the rule of Burma’s junta, its crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1988 when at least 3,000 people were killed.

“Myanmar’s government agrees with what Thailand is doing in order to return stability to the nation. Myanmar had a similar experience to us in 1988, so they understand,” said Tanasak Patimapragorn, supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces, following a visit to Bangkok by Burma’s army chief General Min Aung Hlaing.

Burma’s junta stepped aside in 2011 after nearly five decades of repressive rule and a nominally civilian government full of former military people has pushed through political reforms, freeing hundreds of political prisoners and unmuzzling the press.

In contrast, Thailand’s army seized power after months of street protests designed to oust elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra.

It has effectively banned criticism by the media and arrested pro-democracy protesters for such innocuous acts as reading books in public that are critical of totalitarian regimes, such as George Orwell’s “1984”.

Yingluck was found guilty of abuse of power and ordered to step down by a court on May 7 in what her supporters say was a move by the military-backed royalist establishment to eliminate her family’s political influence. The coup on May 22 cleared out what was left of her government.

The visit by Burma’s military commander, General Min Aung Hlaing, marks the second by a foreign official since the coup, after that of Malaysia’s defense minister.

Thai officials have visited other Asian countries such as China and Cambodia to seek support as a counterweight to the condemnation of Western countries. The United States and European Union have both downgraded diplomatic ties.

Thailand has been sharply divided since 2006 when Yingluck’s brother, then premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by the army. Critics, mostly drawn from the Bangkok-based conservative establishment, said he had abused power and harbored republican aspirations, accusations he denied.

Dissent Silenced

On Thursday the military said it had drafted an interim constitution but gave no details on its content. Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order, told reporters the charter would be submitted for royal endorsement this month.

The junta has begun an overhaul of the electoral system and leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has said elections could take place by late 2015.

The junta has all but silenced dissent by detaining hundreds of activists, academics, journalists and politicians, many at undisclosed locations, before releasing them on condition they do not criticize the regime.

The small anti-coup protests seen immediately after the coup have fizzled out in recent weeks.

A rally on Friday outside the U.S. embassy in Bangkok to show support for Washington’s decision to downgrade ties with Thailand attracted a dozen people, a Reuters reporter said.

Some were taken to police stations for questioning while others were simply asked by troops to produce identity papers.

Under martial law, public gatherings of more than five people are banned.

In the first conviction related to anti-coup activity, a Bangkok court sentenced a protester on Thursday to a one-month suspended jail term and a $190 fine for violating the law.