Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 25 September 2006

Thai coup tops eventful week

It was a most eventful week, with the shocking coup in Thailand taking top position.  Although protests were muted, it was s step back fro democracy.  At the United Nations, leaders expressed worries about the state of the world and of the UN.  The World Bank-IMF meeting ended with an unimpressive reform package.


What a week it has been for global affairs!

The top event was the coup in Thailand.  Yes, the country has previously been known for many coups, and there has been political turmoil there in the last couple of years due to the upheavals in the country’s Southern provinces and the Bangkok protests to oust Prime Minister Thaksin.

But when it came the coup was still shocking.  That it was “bloodless” and apparently supported by the King did not detract from its being a big step backwards for democracy.

The coup leaders promise to restore democracy and there might indeed be a new prime minister shortly but that too does not detract from the fact that he or she will be appointed by the military chiefs and not elected.

And if new elections will take place only in a year (as announced), that will mean military rule for that long.  Many hope there will be more stability, but if so it will be a kind of imposed stability, with people afraid to voice or act on their concerns.

That Thaksin’s overthrow did not lead to violent or visible opposition could be due to his increasing loss of legitimacy among the country’s urban elite and masses, resulting from his perceived use of political power for private commercial interests and his authoritarian ways.

In the rural areas he was still popular because of innovative measures such as debt relief for rural families and village projects aimed at reviving the rural economy.

One can only hope that what comes next will turn out good for the Thai people, that democracy will be restored quickly and that a new stability based on fair political principles and an economy beneficial to the poor will be established.

At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Thaksin had to cancel his speech as his position had become untenable.

But the annual gathering of heads of governments was quite an exciting affair, with some memorable speeches.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi warned that the divide between the Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds will widen until the international community appreciates the sense of humiliation Muslims feel at many actions around the world.

Recent events across the Middle East - from Palestine and Lebanon to Iraq and Afghanistan - have "helped make what may once have been extremist opinions part of the Muslim mainstream. The Muslim world certainly sees all these as a complicity to humiliate Muslim countries and Muslim societies."

Several countries spoke up against the loss of legitimacy of the UN Security Council.

President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon regretted that during Israel's aggression against his country, the Security Council "looked powerless in its attempts to stop the slaughter of Lebanon's children and protect the peace in Lebanon and the Middle East."

He noted that it took over a month to produce a cessation of hostilities that is yet to become a formal ceasefire. This raised serious questions about the UN's ability to safeguard peace "when its resolutions are subjected to the vagaries of a very few world powers."

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was just as blunt, accusing the United States for abusing its power in the Security Council to punish others while protecting its own interests and allies.

He said the Security Council had become an “instrument of threat and coercion.”  The US and Britain used their veto power to further their own interests.  “If they have differences with a nation or state, they drag it to the Security Council” and assign themselves the roles of “prosecutor, judge and executioner.  Is this a just order?”


Another riveting speaker at the General Assembly was President Hugo Chávez of

Venezuela who said that the US was doing all in its power to take over the world, but, if the world were to survive, it could not allow this “dictatorship” to succeed.

The American president purported to promote democracy, but “what type of democracy do you impose with Marines and bombs?” President Chávez asked. “The devil came here yesterday,” he said, referring to US President George W. Bush, and accused the US of planning a coup in Venezuela.

Last week also saw the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Singapore.  The IMF agreed to change its equity shares (known as quotas) so as to give a greater voice to developing countries.

But the immediate measures – raising the quotas of four countries by a bit – did not really help as the shares of other developing countries had to fall to accommodate that.

While China’s share rose from 2.98% to 3.72% and Mexico from 1.21% to 1.45%, the shares of others fell – for example, Malaysia from 0.7% to 0.68% and India from 1.95% to 1.91%.

The reason many developing countries, including Malaysia, agreed was that a phase two of the reforms was promised, which will produce a new formula by which the quotas of countries will be determined by their weight in the world economy.

As a lot of political wrangling is expected, there are concerns whether the second phase will be completed and if so whether the developing countries will really benefit in the end.