The display of unity was clear, as was the message. On what could go down as a historic day for the military and Thai politics, the nation's armed forces' leaders, much-condemned for being part of the "undemocratic" elements seeking to overthrow a universally tried-and-trusted political system, went on TV to criticise yet another elected government. If you have blood on your hands - Army chief General Anupong Paochinda told PM Somchai Wongsawat on Thursday's late-afternoon television show - you must consider quitting. And this is asking nicely.
As for the international media, it could mean that editorials will be a bit more difficult to write. Having virtually held the PAD responsible for the bloodshed - described as the end result of an elitist conspiracy to seize democratic power and not the irresponsibility of mainstream politics - the foreign media will more likely have to continue toeing the line.
However, the picture is becoming a little blurred: Here's a democratically elected government accused of killing and maiming protesters, apart from being regarded as a nominee of a very corrupt elected regime. This government is up against a "dictatorial" military that is hell-bent on putting it out of power. Ironically, the military has managed to keep its hands clean of blood this time around.
On top of that, these much-denounced military leaders are saying that the October 7 clash was wrong and much of the blame should fall on the government, which decided to clear the area around the Parliament using force and tear gas without giving much thought to possible consequences. The consequences were bloody and tragic enough to blow away whatever fledging reconciliatory efforts were underway at that time. Her Majesty the Queen presiding over the funeral of one of the victims and describing her as a "good girl" sent a resounding message that was echoed by the military on TV: the bloodbath could have been avoided.
The military was arguably in a position to preach. There were a few incidents after the 2006 coup involving pro-Thaksin demonstrators. There was an occasion when the residence of Privy Councillor Prem Tinsulanonda was surrounded by angry, stone-throwing mobs, and police restored calm with batons and shields, without causing any serious injuries. In fact, no protester suffered serious injury from September 19, 2006 up until elections were held in December 2007.
The Nation's absurdity, hypocrisy and shameless spin never fails to amaze me.
1. The Nation conveniently leaves out a few bits from this editorial. It obviously leaves out the part about how the PAD violently overtook the Government House, took over a television station, beat up reporters and murdered government supporters, prevented parliament from convening and shot and murdered 3 police officers in cold blood, and stabbed and beat up a few others. The Nation seem angry that the international media is not buying into The Nation's spin and does some professional fact-based reporting.
2. Why shouldn't the government take back government property that is illegally being occupied by a group of fascist agitators who announced to the whole world that they wanted a coup and a collapse of the government? What if red shirted thugs decided to take over the offices of The Nation and told the staff, we won't leave until you quit? The Nation would be singing a different tune, wouldn't they?
3. Of course, The Nation defends the coup and justifies it based on its non-violence. Right, as if driving tanks through the streets of Bangkok, putting soldiers on every street corner, arresting MPs, holding pro-government people at army camps, occupying television stations, taking over rural radio stations, putting generals in charge of state enterprises, spending hundreds of millions of baht on anti-Thaksin propaganda campaign and weapons systems without government oversight, establishing ad-hoc committees and kangaroos courts to destroy enemies, preventing rural people from assembling, and capriciously disenfranchising 65 million are all acts of kindness, love and understanding. But hey, nobody got hurt or killed. I guess in The Nation's myopic little world of self-delusion, anybody can commit a crime whenever they please if there is no violence and/or you are part of the PAD's fascist movement, then you can commit acts of violence and thuggery with impunity and no consequences.
After Thursday, though, the easy part is over. The top brass have put themselves in a situation that is as difficult as the one they put Somchai in. The prime minister, as defiant as Anupong was polite on Channel 3, delivered a clear response on TV to the military bombshell: I will neither quit nor dissolve the House for the time being.
As expected, the response puts the ball straight back in the military's court.
Somchai was adamant that an "independent" investigation, which will be completed in two or three weeks, will determine who will be held responsible. Obviously, Somchai expects his prime ministership to last far beyond that. He vowed to "return power to the people" after a new Constitution is put in place and the government finishes overseeing key national events, including His Majesty's birthday celebration in December.
So what are Anupong and the other military leaders preparing to do now? What looked like the world's most courteous coup, staged through an unprecedented TV news talk programme, is in danger of becoming a mere bluff, with the Somchai government refusing to fold. With their pledge to never choose sides, a coup would blow away the military's credibility, not to mention the great risk of repeating the failings perceived of the post-2006 coup administration.
We can look at the military's move on Thursday in two ways: Our generals have become a bit more mature, or they have simply fallen into their own trap.
Or, you can look at it another way: tell the generals to shut the hell up, don't get involved in politics, and do your duty as professional soldiers.