On Monday 19th of May 2014, armed troops took to the streets of Bangkok and Thailand’s Army Chief, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, declared a state of Martial Law across the Kingdom. Almost immediately, the Western media expressed outrage at the General’s actions and called for Democracy and the Rule of Law to be followed. However, here in Thailand ‘Democracy’ and ‘Rule of Law’ are seen as totally unrelated concepts. Thailand has Democracy, basically a two party system similar to that in the USA, and it has Rule of Law, but each of the political parties seems to believe in one, but not the other. Actually, to call them Political Parties would be wrong. They’re actually nothing more than huge business conglomerates. On the left you have the new-money Shinawatra Corporation and on the right, old-money Bangkok PLC. In fact, the best thing that I could say about Politicians in Thailand is that they make Western Politicians look trustworthy. Well, almost.
Over the course of seven months, Thailand has been transformed into a dangerous powder keg, a huge stick of dynamite searching for a match. This coming weekend, 24th - 26th of May, it’s likely that the coming together of Pro and Anti Government movements in Bangkok would have lit the deadly tapper. During this current period of political unrest, with thirty deaths and eight hundred serious injuries, the police have done little to stem the violence, or to bring those responsible for the violence to justice. When the Constitutional Court recently decided, unanimously, that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was guilty of abusing power for the benefit of her own family, something that’s becoming a bit of a family tradition for the Shinawatras, and she and half of her cabinet were removed from office, the scene was set for an escalation in the already bloody conflict. Government supporters openly called on their followers to raise arms and march south to Bangkok while Anti-Government leaders called on their own supporters to prepare for the final battle.
It would be a battle that neither side could win, but a battle from which neither side could ever step back from. Retreating from a stated position would mean losing face, and to be honest, most Thai’s would sooner lose their lives than lose their perceived standing in society. Thankfully for them, this being a political dispute between wannabe billionaires, the leaders would have allowed their foot-soldiers to take the bullets on their behalf, but I think you see my point.
With neither side willing to give an inch, and the police force dormant on the sidelines, the only real alternative was the army. By stepping in with a show of military force, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha has allowed leaders and activists from both sides of the political fight to avoid further confrontation and at the same time, to come to the conference table without any loss of face. To the Western eye, this might seem like a strange and radical solution to a political problem, but if Western standards were applied here, then the majority of Thailand’s current and former politicians would already be banged-up in jail.
It’s still early days and I'm not certain if there's an official distance between Martial Law and Military Coup, so things may quickly change. However, since the imposition of Martial Law the deadly grenade and gunfire attacks have ended, at least four large illegal arms caches have been confiscated and representatives of all political parties have come to the meeting table for the very first time. But, with the current caretaker Prime Minister and former Prime Minister not attending the meeting, and there whereabouts currently unknown, it's uncertain if any side will be willing, or authorised, to compromise or accept an alternative point of view to their own, but it's hopefully the first small step on a very long road to peace and stability for the people of Thailand. The fact that these talks are taking place has taken a little of the wind from the sails of many Western journalists, but still searching for the negatives, they now seem to be concentrating on the suspension of certain satellite TV news channels. Suppression of the media is certainly detrimental to democracy, but a biased and corrupted media can be severely detrimental to peace.I suspect that very few of these vociferous journalists are familiar with the offerings from Thailand’s BlueSky or Choice TV, because real journalists mourning the temporary demise of these particular ‘News Channels’ would be like Mozart mourning the failure Jedward’s third album.
For myself and my many friends in and around Bangkok, the presence of the army is the first sign that a solution to the Kingdom’s plight may at last be insight. Politicians have proved incapable of helping anyone other than themselves and the streets today feel an awful lot safer than they did a week ago. Media images showing close cropped photographs of heavily armed soldiers are somewhat misleading. It’s not how the streets of Bangkok really look and the photographs have been cropped for a reason. On the other hand, a new industry in Soldier Selfies seems to be flourishing .. mai pen rai kap