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Army reform is essential and overdue

After 18 "successful" military coups over the past eight decades, it would be unwise at best to relegate the last one into the dustbin of Thai history.

Today, six years after the September 19, 2006 coup, no respectable public figures would dare rule out a future military adventure.

Six years on, no generals have been prosecuted for the 2006 coup. None of the coup makers and very few of the coup supporters has publicly expressed any sense of contrition.

Many of those who supported the coup continue to cling to the notion of a "good coup" as a quick fix for Thailand's political ills, not realising that the coup itself is part of those political ills.

As a matter of fact, these people later criticised the September 19 coup makers for not being "decisive" or competent enough in uprooting the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, the megalomaniac prime minister ousted by the coup and later convicted of corruption under circumstances compromised by the junta-appointed Asset Examination Committee.

Six years on, many coup supporters continue to long for yet another "perfect coup" supposedly to clean up corruption and dirty politics once and for all - but what about corruption and undue influence within the Army itself?

This underlies the belief that those perceived as "good people" can do no wrong and don't need to be scrutinised or submit to the same rules as the rest. Thus staging a coup, which is unconstitutional, is "acceptable" and even "preferable" to these people because the coup makers are supposedly a bunch of good fellows.

At the same time, such a problematic ethos enables coup supporters to justify the illegal nullification of the millions of votes of the majority of the electorate who supported Thaksin, because they argue that since he is bad and these people kept voting for him, they must either be bad or foolish, or both.

Six years on, there exists no reform of the Army that would make it a truly disciplined and professional force under civilian rule, divorced from political interference. Instead, Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha continues to comment on politics at a whim while journalists ask him every now and then if there will be yet another coup.

The Army continues to own two of the six free-television stations, 60 per cent of the radio airwaves, and significant shares in TMB Bank (formerly Thai Military Bank) with little questioning or resistance from society at large. One wonders how many armies in supposedly democratic societies wield such power and influence.

Also, the Army's role in the bloody 2010 crackdown continues to escape penalty. Even the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand, which was created by then-premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, admitted that access to Army personnel for questioning over its role in the crackdown - which led to more than 90 deaths and 2,000 injuries on both sides, but mostly red shirts - had been restricted.

Given such circumstances, reform of the Army is imperative and long overdue. Thailand needs a sustained campaign to reform the Army. The pro-coup mentality must be widely debated and confronted.

Only a comprehensive reform of the Army, and widespread opposition and condemnation of the "quick-fix" mentality of the so-called "good people" that created more problems than it solved, can put an end to the status of Thailand as a permanent hostage to the military.

The status of Thailand as one of the most coup-addicted nations on Earth is not something to be proud of and Thai society has only itself to blame.

Quiet as it may be for the time being, one coup supporter recently told this writer that in the next coup, the Army would not only raid TV stations, but would shut down Internet access as well, as more and more critical political debate and networking were taking place online.