Within 72 hours of declaring Martial Law, Thailand’s Army Chief, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, has dismissed the caretaker government and placed the military in control of Thailand, another Military Coup in the famous Land of Smiles. Three days ago I said “It’s still early days and I'm not certain if there's a measureable distance between Martial Law and Military Coup, so things may quickly change”. However, I really didn’t expect things to change quite as quickly as they have. So what happened in those 72 hours, and, what made General Prayuth feel the need to take control not only of the Kingdom’s security, but also control of its government?
On Tuesday, following the imposition of Martial Law, General Prayuth invited all leading political figures to attend a meeting to be hosted at Bangkok’s Army Club. This was the first meeting of all relevant parties since the start of the political unrest seven months ago. The aim of the meeting was to find areas of common ground and compromise between the two main political parties, the governing Pheu Thai Party (PTP) and the opposition Democrat Party, and their supporters, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). After the meeting was adjourned, it was announced that all attendees had been ‘given homework’ and would return on Wednesday to continue their discussions. I suspect that the Generals had noted that recently ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and former executive of Shinawatra Corporation and current Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, had failed to attend the meeting.
On Wednesday, the second meeting began with Yingluck and Niwattumrong still absent. Reports suggest that after having twenty-four hours to consider the situation carefully, the various parties and factions were unable or unwilling to compromise or reach any sort of agreement. Several media channels also reported that governing Pheu Thai Party attendees stated that having discussed the content of the previous day’s meeting with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, they were unable to accept any meaningful electoral reforms until after another election had taken place. The validity of these reports is uncertain, but if General Prayuth had received direct confirmation that Thailand’s Government was indeed taking council and directions from a wanted criminal, a man living in self-imposed exile in order to escape a jail term in his native Thailand, then perhaps he’d considered that any hope of finding a direct political solution to the troubles was gone. Whatever happened, at some point in the meeting Prayuth announced that given the obvious political impasse, and the real threat of an imminent escalation in violence on the streets, the Army would be taking control of Thailand’s Government. After the meeting, representatives of the political parties and their support movements were detained by military police and placed under temporary house arrest. Several of those detained had long outstanding arrest warrants for crimes including, but not limited to, arson, incitement of terrorism, acts of terrorism, and murder. An announcement then called on 150 other officials to report to the Army Club within 24 hours and all international travel for all of the named people was prohibited. The list included the names of Yingluck Shinawatra and Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan. Thailand had just witnessed its thirteenth Military Coup in eighty-five years as a Constitutional Monarchy.
The announcement of Martial Law on Monday was swiftly followed by action. The military quickly uncovered several caches of arms in and around Greater Bangkok. The arms, described as war weapons were confiscated and the owners, mostly pro-government supporters, arrested. New investigations have been ordered into the murder of civilians during the recent political conflict and teams of military police have today confiscated thousands of documents relating to what seems to be significant money transfers by important political figures to their off-shore bank accounts. Today, the ruling military has also vowed to pay the beleaguered rice farmers all of the money that’s been owing to them from the deposed Government’s controversial and corruption fuelled Rice Pledging Scheme, a scheme that has so far cost the Kingdom, and more importantly its rice farmers, an estimated Bt450 Billion. With thirty unanswered murders and eight hundred serious injuries, many of which were caught on camera, and with weapons of war being openly stock-piled and even flaunted on the streets of Bangkok by all sides, and with billions of dollars being stolen from the mouths of the Thai people, one has to ask the question - What have the Royal Thai Police Force been doing for the last seven months?
Since news of the Military Coup spread on Thursday, USA’s John Kerry and UN’s Ban Ki Moon have been quick to condemn the General’s action and have warned of future sanctions against Thailand if democracy is not quickly restored. Since the announcement of the Military Coup, a curfew exists across Thailand from 10pm until 5am and it’s uncertain how long this will remain in place. Initially taken from the air, TV channels are now returning and the internet has so far remained operational. Media and demonstrations now appear to be strictly controlled by the military but so far there has been very little in the way of a violent reaction to the Coup. Again it’s early days and things could quickly change, but the general feeling from friends in and around Bangkok is that they now feel far safer than before. I’m not sure if that feeling of safety qualifies as ‘hope’, hope for a resolution to the seemingly never ending problems that plague Thai politics, but it may be a good start.
Democracy is a very emotive term, but democracy can take many different forms. North Korea, PDR Laos, Egypt, Cambodia and Zimbabwe all have democracy, but I don’t remember such outrage from the West when the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi was recently overthrown by the military in Egypt. Should Robert Mugabe be removed in Zimbabwe or Kim Jon Un in North Korea, I wonder what the West’s reaction would be? Perhaps it all depends on how ‘friendly’ the elected leader is towards the USA and its allies, and it’s safe to say that Thaksin Shinawatra and his successive proxy Governments have over the years, been very good friends indeed. I'm not suggesting that a Democrat led Government would be any better, at least under the current legal system, but I maybe they'd be less likely to waii so low to the West and spend a great deal less on lobbying.
So, back to the question, why execute a Military Coup now? Could it be that General Prayuth saw little hope of any side giving an inch, or that the ruling government was being openly directed by the exiled Thaksin Shinawatra from his home in Dubai? Possibly, but I doubt that this alone would have convinced a seemingly reluctant General to execute a coup just three months before he was due to retire. Was it that recent calls for pro-government supporters to raise arms and fight the perceived injustice of Thailand’s courts had gained traction, and likewise the oppositions determination to stop them, and that the newly discovered arms caches were evidence that such action was moving closer and closer to Bangkok? Possibly, and allied to the first point, this might have been enough for General Prayuth to take such action. But, there may be another reason, something that is sadly inevitable but something that none of us care to mention.
A statement from Prayuth’s spokesman early on Friday stated that ‘the General had not met with the King and had no wish to burden him at this time’.