Thai Military Coup Ousts Prime Minister
The head of Thailand’s military has taken over in a coup.
Thailand’s army commmander ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a military coup Tuesday night while the prime minister was in New York, circling his offices with tanks, declaring martial law and revoking the constitution. An announcement on national television signed by army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin ordered all troops to report to their duty stations.
As soldiers and armored vehicles moved through Bangkok, an announcement from the military earlier declared a provisional authority loyal to beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The announcement declared that a “Council of Administrative Reform” had seized power in Bangkok and nearby provinces without any resistance. It recognized the king as head of state.
Frankly, while there have been troubles in Thailand for years, they’ve largely passed off my radar screen. Wikipedia has an interesting article on the crisis which notes a series of “incidents” that have increased friction.
The origins of the crisis may be traced to the controversy surrounding Viroj Nualkhair, CEO of state-owned Krung Thai Bank (KTB). Viroj faced pressure to leave his position after KTB reported higher than expected levels of non-performing loans in 2004. Viroj was vigorously defended by Sondhi Limthongkul, a media tycoon who had previously been a staunch Thaksin supporter. As KTB CEO, Viroj had forgiven Sondhi’s personal debts by THB 1.6 billion and arranged for further rounds of debt forgiveness. When Viroj was forced out of his position, Sondhi’s public criticism of Thaksin started to increase.
The Sondhi-Thaksin conflict escalated when Sondhi’s Channel 11/1 was temporarily ordered to stop broadcasting due to a contract dispute between cable operator UBC and the government regulator. Weekly attacks on Sondhi’s Muangthai Rai Sapda (Thailand Weekly) television show on Channel 9 started getting more public attention.
In September 2005, Sondhi reportedly made repeated disrespectful on-air references to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Among these references was a claim that the government’s 2004 appointment of Somdet Phra Buddhacharya as acting Supreme Patriach in place of the critically ill Somdet Phra Yanasangworn contravened the prerogative of the King. According to Thai ecclesiastic law, the Supreme Patriarch is nominated by the Supreme Sangha Council and formally appointed by the King. Somdet Phra Phuthacharn’s appointment was vehemently opposed by Luang Ta Maha Bua, an influential monk with close affiliations to Sondhi (see Luang Ta Maha Bua’s opposition to Thaksin Shinawatra). After discussions with King’s principal private secretary, Arsa Sarasin, MCOT executives cancelled the program.
On 27 September 2005, Manager Daily published a sermon by Luang Ta Maha Bua, a popular but controversial monk. The sermon was extremely critical of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinwatra, and further controversial because it came from a monk (who are above criticism in Buddhist Thailand).
Subsequent incidents which escalated the crisis make little sense to me but I’ve got only passing familiarity with Thai culture and Buddhist religious traditions.
UPDATE: Dan Drezner has more.
It’s strictly a coincidence that third-wave democratic governments in Hungary and Thailand are having a spot of trouble today. There does seem to be a loose commonality in the underlying sources of the instability, however.
In both countries, the formal electoral rules and laws seem incapable of dealing with shady behavior by duly elected officials.
BBC has an interesting backgrounder on this (to my sensibilities, at least) very odd crisis.
Thailand’s latest political crisis traces its roots back to January when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sold his family’s stake in the telecoms firm Shin Corp. The move angered many, mainly urban Thais, who complained that the family avoided paying tax and had passed control of an important national asset to Singaporean investors. It led to mass protests and calls for the resignation of the prime minister, who was already under pressure over his handling of a Muslim insurgency in the south and his extensive control over the media.
In a bid to tackle the crisis, and to show he still had widespread public support despite regular massive street protests in Bangkok, Mr Thaksin dissolved parliament in February and called a snap election for April. Mr Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party won 57% of the vote in the April election, but millions of Thais cast protest votes and the opposition refused to take part.
After weeks of limbo, Thailand’s highly-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej called the situation a “mess” and ordered the courts to sort it out. The election result was ruled invalid by the Constitutional Court and a new date was set for later this year.
Mr Thaksin took a seven-week break from politics following the election, but came back to work in May. And last month, he accused several military officers of plotting to assassinate him. His opponents accused him of fabricating a story to win him support in the forthcoming election and the atmosphere has remained tense ever since.
The Thai media has speculated about dissatisfaction towards Mr Thaksin within the military, which is traditionally very loyal to the king. There has also been talk of a split within some parts of the army, following an annual reshuffle which saw some officers with links to Mr Thaksin moved.
The rumours took on a new urgency last month when police intercepted a car driven by a military officer and carrying a large bomb, near the prime minister’s house.
As they say, even paranoids have enemies.