Thailand's Struggle for Democracy

In November 1991, Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon went to a temple in southern Thailand to consult with the spirits on the state of the country he now led by virtue of a military coup 10 months earlier. Announcing his arrival with the blast of 5,000 firecrackers, Suchinda was advised by the guardian of the temple to heed the popular demand for democratization in order to escape a more "fateful event." Suchinda's proclivity to use gunpowder to gain an audience was once again made clear seven months later when, indeed, the predicted "fateful event" occurred.

The Thai military's brutal attack on the pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok last May followed nearly a year of large demonstrations in the Thai capital against Suchinda's military regime. The military claimed that 53 people died when soldiers opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators rallying around Democracy Monument in central Bangkok. Witnesses and Thai non-governmental organizations put the number much higher, charging that as many as 300 protesters were killed, their bodies hauled off in military vehicles and cremated in an unknown location.

An uneasy compromise to the tragic confrontation between the demonstrators and the military came about with the intervention of Thailand's constitutional monarch. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who used his great moral authority in the country to calm Suchinda and the leader of the opposition, Chamlong Srimuang, on national television. Gen. Suchinda resigned as prime minister and is thought to have fled the country. Former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, who was appointed as Suchinda's interim successor, has the difficult task of restoring the country's image and economy, standing up to the still-powerful military, and holding clean elections in the next few months. Meanwhile, legislation is pending in the Thai Parliament that will lessen the role of the armed forces in the government.

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