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101: Pulling Off a Successful Coup

101: Pulling Off a Successful Coup

  • Commentary
  • Current Affairs
Historians claim that the old days of war are over – coups, on the hand, are a different story. This happens often.

Just this month in Turkey, a council called Peace at Home organised by the Turkish Armed Forces attempted to take control of the country. They failed as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was able to maintain social order within 48 hours, effectively ending the coup.

So what then, constitutes a successful coup d’état?


Experts agree that in most successful coups, the deposers have held on to power for at least 7 days. This might sound like an arbitrary number but it should provide enough time for either the deposed government to surrender or for the populace to acquiesce to the new regime.


Naturally, toppling governments is a serious proposition, and serious propositions require equally serious solutions. Such as an effective use of military force.

A recent example was last seen in Thailand during 2014. The Royal Thai Armed Forces led by General Prayut Chan-o-cha exercised its legal right to impose martial law on the nation. Backing this up was the initiation of a series of coordinated moves: using the military to take control of Government House, stationing soldiers in key areas, blockading major roads, seizing television stations and ordering ISPs to be subject to censorship.

Two years later, democracy hasn’t returned – Thailand remains under the rule of General…oh wait, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) of which he is the kingpin.

The proposed new Constitution is also skewed towards military control, and would give the NCPO broad political powers such as picking the 8 to 10 person panel who will choose parliament’s 250-member senate – of these, 6 seats would be reserved for the military, including the military’s supreme commander and defence permanent secretary.


Preserving the status quo post – coup is as important as the coup itself. To safeguard its hard fought victory, the incumbent should put in measures to prevent future take overs.

Politically, this lies in ensuring the government has tight reins on the military. Using Singapore as an example, the power to appoint the Chief of Defence Force (CDF) lies with the President acting under the advice of the Prime Minister.

Examining the history of this position, Rice observes that the Singapore CDF has been cycled out every 3-5 years since 1992. Keeping the senior military leadership from being entrenched is smart politics.

Logistically, the coup makers must displace the head-of-state, either by way of capture or at least incapacitating him or her in some way. This is obviously easier to do when the president is travelling outside the country. As pedestrian as it sounds – security is key and a good presidential guard can make all the difference.


The last key element is the media.

Aside from the symbolic notion that the person who is holding the microphone is in charge, he/she who controls the media directs the narrative of the events as they unfold.

Propaganda is king: the incumbent can stifle the spread of fear and rumours, thwarting attempts by the usurpers to exaggerate the extent of their control and coercing support from the general public, inter alia.

Back in Asia, Thailand goes to vote next month on 7 August. Right now, a grassroots information campaign is being conducted, mostly by the army. However, dissidents may be restricted in voicing their concerns, since the penalty for “people who propagate information deemed distorted, violent, aggressive, inciting or threatening so that voters do not vote or vote in a particular way” is 10 years in jail and a fine of 200,000 baht.

Seems like Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha got all the ingredients right. Kudos.