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HS 311- Power, Politics & State

Involvement of the Military in modern revolutions

Mohammad Fadzil bin Mohamed Wahed & Shahul Hameed bin Mohamad Ali 4/1/2011

Word count: 2053

In this paper, we attempt to study the role of the military in modern revolutions. We will use the 2006 Coup Dtat in Thailand as well as the 2011 Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia as a case study to see if the military indeed has any integral role towards the success of the revolutions. In here, we identify the main theme of power using Lukes power dimensions as a guide. We also identify the main actors involved in this phenomenon along with other factors that also contributed to the success of each revolution.

HS 311- Power, Politics & State

The military as an institution has always been at the forefront of various conflicts. In this paper, we aim to study how the involvement of this institution affects the outcome of 2 revolutions- the 2006 coup dtat in Thailand and the 2011 Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. We aim to highlight the main differences between these two revolutions and see if there has been any change towards the importance of the military in any revolutions. This might go to show the necessity of the military to effect any changes in a country as well as show how power as well as politics is being dealt with through such an institution.

In order to fully comprehend this issue, we have divided the paper into several parts. Firstly, we will provide an overview as well as a brief history of the two revolutions. Next, we will compare and contrast the two revolutions and analyze them to see if any key issues with regards to power and politics arise from them. It must be noted that we are doing a comparison on these two specific incidences as a model to see if it is applicable on a general level. Regardless of its apparent level of involvement in those two revolutions, we feel that the military still has an integral role in the success of any revolutions. The 2006 Thailand Coup Dtat Thailand is a country that has a long history of coups. From 1932 to 1991, there have been a total of 17 coups that took place in the country. Before the coup in 2006, the country had enjoyed 15 years of democratic rule which saw Thaksin Shinawatra being elected into the government as Prime Minister in 2001. It was in fact a landslide victory for him with the rural population of Thailand forming the bulk of his supporters.


HS 311- Power, Politics & State

However, that was the beginning of the troubles that eventually led to the 2006 coup. Many saw that Thaksin used his position as the Prime Minister to accumulate huge wealth for himself (BBC, 2010). This was especially so when he sold Shincorp to Temasek Holdings for USD1.9 billion tax-free! This produced a double-barreled effect as many Thais also felt that their Prime Minister had betrayed them by selling what is essentially a Thai company to foreign investors. This ultimately led to the downfall of Thaksin (BBC, 2006; 2010). Besides being largely unpopular amongst the urban Thais in Bangkok in the above stated reasons, he was also unpopular in his dealings in with regards to the conflict in the south. He maintained a hardline stance against the insurgence in the south which proved largely popular amongst human rights activists in Bangkok. Furthermore, his meddling in the affair had stirred up anti-Thaksin sentiments amongst the senior military commanders (Kamlian, 2003). This was especially so for General Sonthi who felt that politicians should not be meddling in the affairs of the military as it would make their job a lot more difficult as they could not achieve their full operational status without having to think of ways to appease the parliament (Kamlian, 2003). What prompted the generals to act was that Thaksin easily won the 2006 General Election in April (BBC, 2006). They felt that his wealth, coupled with Thai Rak Thais electoral dominance, it seems that only through a coup could they remove Thaksin from power. Seeing how the Thai military has a history of taking matters in their own hands (BBC, 2010), the military, under General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, carried out a coup on the 19th of September 2006 whilst Thaksin was in New York, about to deliver a speech in the United Nations (BBC, 2010). The 2006 coup was not intended for the military to take over the country. Rather, it was to set things up for democracy. The leader of the military junta, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin,


HS 311- Power, Politics & State

reportedly stated that within 2 weeks of the coup, there will be a new Prime Minister (BBC, 2006). He was also reported to have mentioned that new elections will take place in a year from the coup after a new constitution has been written. It can be noted that the military was fighting for the people and still adhere to the king as tanks present during the coup had yellow ribbons tied to the turrets to symbolize their allegiance to the king (BBC, 2006). In an interview with a cadet who has just graduated from Bangkoks military academy showed that the main aim of the military is to protect the nation, the king and the people. There was never any mentioning of duty towards the elected government (BBC, 2010). 2011 Jasmine Revolution Strategically situated in the center of North Africa, Tunisia is the next focus in this essay. This country has little over 10 million citizens, most of whom are Muslims. Its population is relatively young and educated. From 1987 till 2011, Tunisia was under the authoritarian rule of the then President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Although the country was stable under this regime, Tunisians sacrificed much of their political freedom for economic freedom, which in turn was hampered by rampant corruption in the countrys bureaucracy. In January 15th 2011, Tunisia saw its out of favour, President Ben Ali flee the country. This was considered as a resounding success of a month long coup, elegant called as the, Jasmine Revolution (HASSAN, 2011). Although, there was already existing resentment towards Ben Alis regime before Mohamad Bauazizi self-immolated himself, it was his act of desperation and helplessness that triggered a decisive revolution.


HS 311- Power, Politics & State

Bauazizi had specifically targeted and mistreated by corrupt police officials who often confiscated his fruits cart, which was his only means to feed his mother and six siblings. The final straw came on the 17th of December 2010, when officials harassed Bauazizi and confiscated his cart for not being able to pay bribes. Furthermore, he was humiliated and hit by a female officer (ABOUZEID, 2011). This, coupled with the government officials refusal to listen to his complains resulted to Bauazizis self-immolation and subsequent death two weeks later. The credit for starting the Jasmine Revolution might have been given to Bauazizi but the revolution itself was a testament to the Tunisian resolve for freedom and democracy. The people, mostly educated youths without any substantial employment opportunities employed new social media devices, such as FaceBook and Twitter, to rally each other and organize movements and protests in this revolution. The eruptions of protests against Ben Ali were so spontaneous and prompt that they lacked political infrastructure and were carried out by secular Tunisians (Rubin, 2011). Throughout history, numerous revolutions that Man has witnessed have had the military play a crucial role (Tilly, 2004). Contrary to this trend, the Jasmine Revolution saw the Tunisian military deciding to stay away from the main fray between the people and President Ben Alis government (Rubin, 2011). The military restricted it role greatly and reported that its only role will be to protect the civilians if President Ben Ali uses his police officials to use violence to disperse the protesters. Though this is not an impartial stand by the military, it minimized the militarys involvement in the revolution.


HS 311- Power, Politics & State

The Analysis In both countries, we observed that there was pre-existing resentment towards the rulers. People who shared these resentments respectively also share a similar socio-economic class in their countries. This can be seen from the bulk of protestors in Tunisia who happens to be young educated adults that are lacking in employment opportunities. In the case of Thailand, the bulk of the people who resented Thaksin were from middle class urbanites from Bangkok. Therefore, we can observe that these two groups of people are similar as they are both in the middle class as well as them having little say towards how they country was being run. Both countries could be seen as pseudo-democratic (Diamond, 2002) as Thaksin had delayed the elections and was even suspected of manipulating the results in his favour in the April 2006 general elections while in Tunisia the 2009 national elections Human Rights Watch reported that parties and candidates were denied exposure equal to the sitting president (Human Rights Watch, 2009). Furthermore, the opposition parties were denied any campaigning opportunities. However, when it came to the revolution itself, the Thai people were generally uninvolved while the military carried out the coup. However, in Tunisia, it was the people who actually started the revolution to overthrow Ben Ali essentially with the help of new social media. This platform provided the Tunisians with technical and experience knowledge which empowered them (Weber, 1978) not only to organize themselves but also to share this with others across the country. This was different from the case in Thailand as the military kept the people in the dark even as the coup took place by blacking out all forms of mass media. This shows that the military was the one that made the decision for the people thinking that that was what they


HS 311- Power, Politics & State

wanted. In other words, the leaders aggregated the interests of the people and decide which the politically salient issues are (Cohen, Jean L.; Arato, Andrew, 1992). Another point of contrast that we can study from these revolutions is the role of the military as an institution. In Thailand, it was the military that carried out the coup without any obvious sources of support. In other words, they would have carried out the coup with or without popular backings of the people. This can be compared with Lukes first dimension of power which states that power can only come from the action of an entity (Lukes, 1986). However, the Tunisian militarys inaction, Its decision of not supporting Ben Ali in repressing the protestors as well as not participating in forcefully overthrowing Ben Alis regime, led to the success of the revolution. On the surface, this inaction by the military might not mean much. However, if we were to look deeper, we would uncover that this inaction has as much potential as action in the success or failure of the revolution. This can be compared with Lukes second dimension of power which he stated that the lack of action too is a form of power (Lukes, 1986). Mills also agreed that the failure to act is of far greater consequence as compared to making decisions itself (Mills, 2007). In both places, the military sees themselves as independent from other institutions in the state hence it has the capacity to uphold the interests of the nation. This is despite the fact that power of the military comes from the centralization of forces within the country (Mills, 2007). As the military has a consolidation of force, it remains that that institution has a considerable amount of power to decide the fate of the revolution itself (Tilly, 1985). As seen in the case studies above, the military in Thailand took it upon themselves to remove Thaksin without any forms of hesitation. In the case of Tunisia, the refusal of the military to suppress the protestors through


HS 311- Power, Politics & State

armed means despite being ordered by Ben Ali shows that power lies in the consolidation of force by the institution (Tilly, 1985). Furthermore, the non-involvement of the military in any political agenda of the government gives them a unique stance in the country as we can see in both cases.

Conclusion In this paper, we have attempted to show that the military, as an institution, plays a pivotal role in modern revolutions. Even with the existence of civil societies, the military still has the ability to determine the outcome be it through overt or covert actions. As we have seen in the case of Thailand, it was the militarys overt actions that led to an eventual change of government. Without the help of the military, Thaksin might still remain in power due to his accumulation of wealth as well as the overwhelming electoral support that he has amongst the rural population. As such, the success of the 2006 coup would not be possible without the intervening powers of the military. In Tunisia, the militarys inaction decided the success of the Jasmine revolution. Even though it was the people who decided to go against Ben Ali, the balance of favour was tilted towards them when the military decided to serve the national interest which inadvertently was on the side of the protestors. In conclusion, while there might be several factors that could cause a revolution in a country, the fact remains that power still lie in the military. Hence without their support, any chances of success in any revolutions would be severely limited.


HS 311- Power, Politics & State

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HS 311- Power, Politics & State

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