Commentary: Thailand as a model? Why Myanmar military may follow Prayuth’s example

SINGAPORE: At first look, one can see related motives for the 2006 and 2014 coups in Thailand as properly as the 2021 Myanmar coup.

In all three instances, coup-plotters confronted in style civilian governments in search of extra management over the military.

In 2006 General Sonthi Boonyaratglin confronted populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In 2014 General Prayuth Chan-o-cha confronted Thaksin’s sister Yingluck.

In 2021 Myanmar military commander Min Aung Hlaing confronted Aung San Suu Kyi.

READ: Commentary: Myanmar protesters are not giving up so easily

With their obligatory retirements drawing close to, these military leaders might have confronted prosecution and misplaced their financial holdings as properly as any political future.

Indeed, Thailand and Myanmar are each praetorian societies provided that their militaries have at all times been main nationwide political actors. 

In the title of nationwide safety, these militaries have possessed monumental state, financial and social energy. When elected civilian governments led these nations, civil-military relations in Thailand and Myanmar have been fraught with excessive stress, typically resulting in coups. 


General Min Aung Hlaing and different Tatmadaw leaders had been actually watching and taking notes when Thailand’s 2014 coup towards a popularly-elected civilian democracy sustained itself into a military-dominated pseudo-democracy in 2019.

Arguably, following Myanmar’s Feb 1 coup, Myanmar generals seem to have sought to follow the Thailand mannequin of military management.

That mannequin means that militaries can efficiently stage coups and information democracy the place sturdy central governments historically dominates however elected civilians can not management militaries, courts facet with the armed forces, and civilians are extra divided than safety officers.

Myanmar's military Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing  (L) shakes hands with Thailand's

Myanmar’s military Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaingshakes fingers with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, August. 30, 2017. (Photo: REUTERS/Sakchai Lalit/Pool)

It is these instructive classes which Myanmar’s military took from Thailand’s coups of 2006 and 2014. Following Thailand’s 2006 coup and enactment of a 2007 structure which weakened civilian rule, Thailand witnessed six years of frail democracy. 

From 2008 till 2014, elected Thai governments exerted little efficient civilian management, invariably acquiescing to military preferences.

The feebleness of Thai democracy helped persuade Myanmar’s military to enact its personal 2008 structure and maintain 2011 elections. As in Thailand, post-2011 Myanmar governments exerted little management over the military, typically deferring to it.


However, Myanmar’s military was a step forward of Thailand. It managed 25 per cent of legislatures in every House of Parliament, loved autonomy from civilian monitoring of its financial holdings and dominated the National Defence and Security Council.

Thailand’s 2017 structure impressed Myanmar’s military management. Thailand’s Senate, Election Commission and Constitutional Court had been appointed by the military authorities, a new electoral method stopping events from acquiring Lower House majorities, and governments now needed to abide by a 20-Year National Strategy to make sure monumental funding for the military or probably face impeachment.

READ: Commentary: Can Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement overturn the coup?

Meanwhile, Palang Pracharat, a military proxy political get together which utilised state sources, was created. Deputy Prime Minister (and retired General) Prawit Wongsuwan stays the get together’s chief. The get together has additionally employed native voter canvassing networks and supplied welfare handouts to entice voters. 

Learning from Thailand’s 2019 election and its use of a new structure to entrench its place in politics, the Tatmadaw tried to change the 2008 structure to boost military management.

But the National League for Democracy (NLD)-dominated Joint Parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Amendment vetoed these makes an attempt.

The headquarters of Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party were raided in the dead of night by security

The headquarters of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD get together had been raided at the hours of darkness by safety forces. (Photo: AFP/Hla-Hla HTAY)

It is not any shock that the Tatmadaw regarded longingly at Thailand. If Myanmar’s military leaders might implement a constitution much like Thailand’s 2017 structure, then their proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) may lastly win an election towards the NLD, propelling the military to electorally dominate the state.

But Myanmar’s November 2020 election outcome delivered one other super-majority to the NLD, guaranteeing that constitutional modifications wouldn’t be applied anytime quickly.

In a means, like Thailand’s 2014 coup allowed Thailand’s military a few extra years to repair the structure, Myanmar’s 2021 take-over tries to do the identical.


There are variations between the Thai case and the state of affairs in Myanmar.

First, Thailand has lengthy been managed by an association between monarchy and military with the latter as junior accomplice.  The military derives a lot energy from legitimacy it possesses as guardian of monarchy, particularly its closeness to late Rama IX (beloved by most Thais).

His monumental reputation and endorsement of 2006 and 2014 coups (amid Thai divisions relating to Premier Thaksin Shinawatra) left Thais divided however stored the stability skewed in the direction of the military. On the opposite, Myanmar’s coup appeared to have provoked a large home backlash.

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a 2006 coup and has since chosen

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a 2006 coup. (Photo: AFP/ISAAC LAWRENCE)

Second, having influenced the writing of at the least 15 constitutions, Thailand’s military has taken a lengthy path in lastly succeeding in engineering political get together dominance and gaining nationwide primacy. It has entrenched itself into the political system.

However, in Myanmar, the senior officer corps has lengthy perceived itself as the “rescuer” of the nation from colonialism and international enemies, guaranteeing its persevering and privileged nationwide safety position.

READ: Commentary: Myanmar learnt the wrong lessons from Indonesia’s political transition

This viewpoint helped rationalise its 1962, 1988 and 2021 interventions.  At the identical time, Tatmadaw officers have turn out to be a privileged financial class — essentially the most highly effective nationwide.

But that sentiment will not be shared by most of the people. The nation stays disunited, with few civilians having fun with reputation apart from Aung San Suu Kyi.

Meanwhile, the military has been extra profitable at utilizing brute power fairly than establishing a profitable political get together. The demise toll has risen sharply to greater than 550.


Despite variations, the essential implication of Thailand for Myanmar is that repression alone won’t maintain military affect. 

Having mentioned sure to a democratic transition with elections since 2011, Myanmar’s military can not enable democratic stirrings to begin solely to get rid of them when it deems match. That viewpoint ignores Myanmar’s 2011 to 2021 democratic transition.

It can be far smarter for the Tatmadaw to construct help inside a pseudo-democratic system — as Thailand’s military has completed. Otherwise, Myanmar may proceed towards bloodstained nationwide slaughter — reverting to its previous.

Ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has meanwhile been hit with a new criminal charge, accused

Ousted civilian chief Aung San Suu Kyi has been hit with expenses of breaking an official secrets and techniques regulation. (Photo: AFP/Thet Aung)

Now the dye has been solid. With violent military repression unable to squelch the protests, what can the Tatmadaw do now? There are three paths. 

First, give in to the protestors and revert to the pre-coup system parliamentary democracy.

Second, try a Thai mannequin for Myanmar in establishing a new structure which provides the Tatmadaw far more affect over a new pseudo-democracy.

Establishing such a bicameral political system, with a utterly military-appointed Senate, Election Commission and judiciary as properly as an electoral method which, as in post-2019 Thailand, buffers the nation towards the state of affairs the place any highly-popular get together (whether or not Thaksin’s Pheu Thai in Thailand or Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD in Myanmar) can translate a sudden electoral majority instantly into a full parliamentary benefit.

READ: Commentary: Is China using Myanmar coup to ramp up influence in Southeast Asia?

READ: Commentary: Defiance in Myanmar’s diplomatic ranks threatens the military’s power

Third, revert to Myanmar’s pre-1990 election historical past of violent military dictatorship. 

In April 2021, with the primary state of affairs a non-starter and the second unacceptable by most in Myanmar, the nation seems to have violently descended into state of affairs three – a darkish tunnel of military subjugation.  But with mass protests persevering with, the February coup has not been absolutely profitable.

Eventually, the Tatmadaw should realise that they must sometime come to some type of compromise with the NLD, which has gained overwhelming help.

The query stays: How many extra individuals must die earlier than it involves the negotiating desk?

Dr Paul Chambers is Visiting Fellow, Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute


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