Thailand’s Army Stages Military Coup
Just a few days after imposing martial law in response to anti-government protests that had swept the nation for weeks, the Thai Army has reverted to form and deposed the government:
BANGKOK — The Thai military on Thursday launched a coup, declaring that it was “necessary to seize power.” The head of the Thai Army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, made the announcement on television flanked by senior military officers.
The Thai news media reported that political officers who were attending a meeting called by the military had been detained.
The coup came after the introduction of martial law on Tuesday and follows a long history of coups in Thailand.
General Prayuth said the coup was launched “in order to bring the situation back to normal quickly.” The coup, he said, was intended to “reform the political structure, the economy and the society.”
The last coup in Thailand was in 2006 and had been followed by more than a year of military rule.
Thousands of protesters were on the streets when General Prayuth made his announcement.
“The national peacekeeping committee,” he said, referring to the military, “will worship and protect the monarchy.”
Thailand’s king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is 86 years old and ailing. He has been on the throne for more than 60 years.
The Thai government has been paralyzed by protests for the last six months.
Protesters have sought to eradicate the country’s most powerful political family, the Shinawatras. The country’s politics have been turbulent since 2006, when the military removed Thaksin Shinawatra, the patriarch of the family, who founded a populist movement that has won every election since 2001.
More from the BBC:
The latest unrest began in the Thai capital late last year, when then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the lower house of parliament.
Demonstrators have blockaded several areas of Bangkok for months.
Earlier this month, a court ordered Ms Yingluck’s removal for alleged abuse of power.
Thailand has faced a power struggle since Ms Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by the military as prime minister in 2006.
Mr Thaksin and Ms Yingluck have strong support in rural areas and among poorer voters.
Correspondents say they are hated by an urban and middle-class elite who accuse them of corruption and abuse of power.
In addition to being the second coup in eight years in Thailand, today’s events mark a continuation of what has been a long history of military involvement in Thai politics that stretches back to 1932 when the nation’s absolute monarchy came to an end and a legislature was put in place:
Thailand has been under constitutional rule for more than 80 years, but for much of that time members of the army rather than civilians have held positions of power.
The first coup happened in June 1932, in a bloodless revolt that abolished absolute monarchy and introduced Thailand’s first parliamentary elections.
Six years later, military leader Luang Phibun Songkram became prime minister.
After a short-lived civilian administration following the end of World War Two, the military launched a coup in 1947 and remained in power until 1973.
Just three years of civilian rule followed, before a bloody crackdown on student protesters returned control to the army.
More coups and unstable coalition governments led by appointed prime ministers brought Thailand to 1992, when pro-democracy protesters filled the streets of Bangkok demanding a return to civilian rule.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej famously stepped in and asked the generals and pro-democracy leaders to reconcile their differences. They did, and Democrat Party leader Chuan Leekpai took power.
The next coup to reshape Thailand is at the root of the country’s current impasse.
In 2006 the flamboyant Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.
The army soon ceded power to a civilian government, but ever since there has been a power struggle between those who support Mr Thaksin – and by extension the current administration, which until recently was led by his sister Yingluck – and those who want his influence out of Thai politics for good.
Earlier this month, amid escalating violence between the two sides, the army warned that it “may need to come out… to restore peace and order”.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha said at the time that troops might have to end the violence “in full force”.
Now he has declared martial law, he has given himself broad powers to ban public gatherings, restrict people’s movements, conduct searches, impose curfews and detain suspects – but has stopped short of doing more.
According to some estimates I’ve seen this morning, this is the 19th coup or attempted coup that the military has staged since the Thai Constitution was adopted in 1932. Twelve of those coups have succeeded, meaning essentially that it is more common than not that Thailand has been ruled by a government approved of, if not installed, by the military, for most of its modern history.
In some sense then, the Thai military has played a similar role in that country’s politics that the Turkish military has played in the political life of Turkey. The analogy isn’t perfect, of course, because the motivations for action are typically quite different, secularization in Turkey versuses a purported desire for political stability in Thailand. Additionally, in Thailand there is also the additional, although often unstated, influence of a King who has reigned since 1946 and is currently the longest reigning living monarch in the world and the longest in recorded Thai history. As a figure respected by all sides, he is able to make his influence felt often without necessarily taking a public stand. How the role of the monarch in Thai politics will change after he is no longer around is one of those questions that nobody seems to want to talk about publicly. The interesting thing about Thailand, though, is the extent to which the people have accepted the military’s decisions to step into politics at times of crisis. There have been protests against civilian leadership in the 90s and recently, but typically not against the military.
If things proceed as they did after the 2006 coup, then we’ll likely see an extended period of military rule followed by a new round of civilians in charge. However, unless the conflicts that have led to the political instability of the past decade are addressed it seems likely that the army will be back on the streets of Bangkok again before long.