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Thailand Military Coup - 20 May 2014

Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha ruled out any early general election for the country in a nationally broadcast address May 30, 2014. The leader of the May 22 coup said it will take about a year and three months to accomplish reforms necessary before a nationwide vote. The general said "a legislative council will be established in order to select a prime minister, appoint a Cabinet to oversee the administration and draft a [new] constitution, as well as set up a reform council to reform all issues that the society desires, acceptable to all groups."

A spokesman for the governing military council said the goal of the coup is to eradicate the influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a previous coup in 2006. Parties supported by Thaksin have won every election in Thailand since 2001, and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister after elections in 2011. Thaksin Shinawatra remains popular among the rural poor, especially in the north and northeast of the country. Bangkok urbanites and ardent royalists, along with much of the elite in the powerful military, were strong opponents of the ex-prime minister.

Thailand's military coup leaders suspended the nation's constitution on 22 May 2014 and ordered the country's acting prime minister and cabinet to report to the army, two days after the army chief imposed martial law. Within hours of the coup announcement, the military detained officials in the caretaker government as well as rival political factions, banned gatherings of more than five people, instituted a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am, and suspended the constitution -- except for the section related to the monarchy.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup, declared himself acting prime minister 23 May 2014, and also assumed all legislative power. His junta on 24 May 2014 dissolved the kingdoms partly-elected Senate. He said the moves are necessary to restore public order and push through political reforms.

Thailands armed forces declared the country to be under martial law during an announcement on military TV 20 May 2014. According to the statement, the decision was made to restore peace and order for people from all sides while also making the distinction that the move was not a coup. Thailand had been rocked by unrest for months, culminating in the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra earlier in May. Anti-government protesters in the country had been seeking her ouster since November 2013 the latest expression of deep political divisions since 2006, when Yinglucks elder brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, was removed from office by the countrys military.

General Prayuth Chan-Ocha defended the move as necessary to resolve the country's political crisis. Prayuth said the army acted over concerns that the security situation is deteriorating and to prevent violence between pro- and anti-government supporters. The Royal Thai Army intends to bring back peace and order to the beloved country of every Thai as soon as possible, Prayuth said.

We therefore ask every side and every group to stop their movement, in order to quickly enter the process and sustainably solve the countrys problem. The provisions of the Martial Law Act 1914 will be announced. We are asking the general public not to panic and still carry on their duties and work normally, he added.

Under Thai law, the military can declare martial law without prior consultation with, or consent of, the government if it believes that the situation could critically jeopardize public peace and order in any specified area. Martial law is practically tantamount to a military coup if it is imposed without prior approval from the government, albeit in caretaker status.

Although the military may not overthrow the government or abrogate the constitution during martial rule, they could practically remain in power for an indefinite period of time and there would be no telling when they might get back to the barracks and return democratic rule to the country.

One significant difference after the implementation of martial law: a muting of Thailands media. At least 14 satellite TV stations and hundreds of small radio stations were taken off the air. At the remaining news stations, soldiers now monitored content. A dozen provincial governors and numerous top police officials were also removed from their posts.

The military surrounded the pro-government red shirts camp just west of the capital. Leaders of the pro-government Red Shirt demonstrators, who have insisted that the current caretaker government could legally run the country until a post-election government has been set up, have vowed to move into the heart of the capital and could possibly engage in a tense standoff with the anti-government protesters. "If the military seizes power under the pretext of martial law and no matter which side they might take, we would certainly rise up and fight for democracy,'' said Red Shirt leader Chatuporn Prompand to a cheering crowd.

There was no military presence at the anti-government rally site, near key government buildings, the armys headquarters and the U.N.s largest regional office. The anti-government protesters have insisted that the caretaker government headed by Acting Deputy Premier Nivatthamrong Boonsongpaisal has no legal basis to run the country and should be immediately replaced by a non-elected prime minister.

Under US law, with limited exceptions, no US foreign aid may be directed to a country whose elected head of government is deposed by military coup or a coup in which the military takes a major role.

Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha said 26 June 2014 that work on a temporary constitution had been completed and it had undergone a legal review. The army chief said the charter will be submitted for royal endorsement next month. After that, he predicted it will be another two months before the temporary document comes into effect. Prayuth, known as an ardent royalist, disclosed no details of the interim constitution, except to assure the nation that Thailand's king will remain head of state. General Prayuth said he expects a draft of a permanent constitution can be ready in 10 to 12 months. After that, the military leader says, free and fair elections will then be held. He predicted parliamentary elections in October 2015, but urged patience until sweeping reforms are implemented, which he expects will take about 300 days.

On 23 July 2014 Thailands military junta unveiled an interim constitution that allows the army to retain sweeping powers. And the army chief, who currently had total executive and legislative oversight, could become the kingdoms next prime minister. The military was to handpick a 220-member legislature (replacing the House of Representatives and the Senate) that would later select a prime minister and Cabinet. Anyone who had held a political position in a current party would be excluded from the new group of lawmakers.

Context

Thailand has been wracked by six months of political disputes and sometimes violent demonstrations. Crisis talks between rival political parties broke down in mid-May. Nearly 30 people had been killed during anti-government protests.

The current turmoil is part of a behind-the-curtain struggle among fractious elements of the royal family, the military and political power brokers to prepare for the era beyond Rama IX, who was in very poor health. King Bhumibol Adulyadej made a rare public appearance on 05 May 2014 to mark the 64th anniversary of his coronation. However, open discussion of this in Thailand is muted by strict lese majeste laws, which effectively prevent a meaningful discussion of the role of the palace in Thai politics.

Thailand is a constutional monarchy, but the political role of the monarch is much closer to that of George III at the time of the American Revolution than Elizabeth II today. The notoriously dissolute Crown Prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn [Edward VIII was a paragon of virtue by comparison], is widely-disliked, and his ascension to the throne could splinter Thai politics, if prominent politicians openly questioned the presumed heir to the throne's fitness to assume the monarchical reins.

The country is divided between the yellow-shirts - Bangkok-based middle-class and establishment, as well as staunchly royalist south [yellow being the monarchy's signature color]; and the more numerous red-shirt - the north and northeastern rural support base of the Shinawatra clan. The palace fears the red-shirt faction of the Shinawatra clan, but the pro-palace yellow-shirt faction cannot prevail in a free and fair election. The red-shirts have proposed new elections for August 2014, which they would win. The yellow-shirt agenda includes constitutional revisions to provide for a number of appointed members to the lower house, to ensure a yellow-whirt majority [they already control the appointed upper house].

While both yellow and red try to lay exclusive claim to the mantle of democracy, both have ulterior motives in doing so. Both movements reflect deep social concerns stemming from widespread perceptions of a lack of social and economic justice, but both seek to triumph in competing for traditional Thai hierarchical power relationships. New elections would not appear to be a viable solution to political divide, and political discord could persist for years.

Few observers believe that the deep political and social divides can be bridged until after King Bhumibol passes and Thailand's tectonic plates shift. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn neither commands the respect nor displays the charisma of his beloved father, who greatly expanded the prestige and influence of the monarchy during his long reign. Some question whether Vajiralongkorn will be crowned King, as Bhumibol desires. Nearly everyone expects the monarchy to shrink and change in function after succession. How much will change is open to question, with many institutions, figures, and political forces positioning for influence, not only over redefining the institution of monarchy but, equally fundamentally, what it means to be Thai. It was a heady time for observers of the Thai scene, a frightening one for normal Thai.

The consequences of martial rule could be a repeat of the bloody crackdown by the army in 2010 against the Red Shirt protesters in Rajdamnern and Rajprasong areas in which nearly 100 people were killed and an estimated 2,000 others injured. The last time the military mounted a coup in 2006, it didn't work out so well. The military was afraid that if they call it a coup and actually removed the caretaker government officially, not de facto like they were doing, that would provoke the Red Shirts and could lead the country closer to civil war. General Prayuth justified carrying out the coup as a necessary move amid a dangerous extended period of political stalemate and that the military would improve Thailands democratic model and return happiness to the people.

The army chief who deposed Thailands civilian government was selected as the kingdoms prime minister. General Prayuth Chan-ocha was the only candidate nominated for the job. A handpicked legislature stacked with military officers held a vote August 21, 2014 to select the countrys prime minister.

Authorities in Thailand said 26 November 2014 they did not foresee holding elections around October 2015 as originally promised. Prawit Wongsuwan, a retired commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai army who holds the posts of defense minister and deputy prime minister in the junta's cabinet, told reporters that it was impossible to hold a national election next year because of groups in Thailand who oppose the ruling junta, named the National Council for Peace and Order.

Junta officials have acknowledged that a primary objective of the 22 May 2014 coup was to permanently eradicate the political influence of the Shinawatra clan. Political parties allied with the wealthy family won every national election since 2001, in large part by appealing to the disaffected poor in the rural north. The latest coup was timed to ensure a royalist faction of the military took charge over the country at a time of growing concern about the extremely sensitive issue of monarchical succession.




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Page last modified: 30-11-2014 18:42:45 ZULU