In Thailand, yet another civilian government has bit the dust. After first denying it was a coup, it’s now official: the civilian government has been overthrown. This is the 12 military coup in Thailand since 1932. The last coup was in 2006.
The scene was first set two days ago when the government declared martial law. CNN reported that “the army’s decision to take control of the country came as a surprise to acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, an aide to the leader told CNN. The army took this action unilaterally,’ said the aide, who did not wish to be named. The person described the action as ‘half a coup d’etat.'” And now it is a whole one:
Two days after declaring martial law the Thai military on Thursday seized full control of the country, the second time in a decade that the army has overthrown an elected government.
The military, which had invited political leaders Thursday for a second day of talks on how to resolve the country’s political deadlock detained the meeting participants instead. The head of the army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha then announced the coup on national television, saying it was “necessary to seize power.”
Mr. Prayuth said the coup was launched “in order to bring the situation back to normal quickly” and to “reform the political structure, the economy and the society.”
Pedestrians strolled past armed Thai soldiers guarding a government building in Bangkok after martial law was declared. nThai troops guarded a checkpoint near a pro-government encampment in suburban Bangkok on Tuesday, but in many neighborhoods, not a soldier could be seen.
Six months of debilitating protests in Thailand have centered on whether to hold elections. The governing party dissolved Parliament in December in an attempt to defuse the crisis and set the election for February. The opposition Democrat Party, which has not won a national election since 1992, refused to take part. Protesters called for an appointed prime minister and blockaded polling stations, leading to a court ruling that the election was unconstitutional.
The country’s democracy was in deadlock.
General Prayuth made the coup announcement Thursday flanked by senior military officers.
Supporters of the former government of Yingluck Shiniwatra, a group known as red shirts, who were holding a demonstration Thursday on the outskirts of Bangkok, were dispersed by soldiers in black masks. The Thai media reported that their leaders were arrested.
The BBC notes the country’s long history with coups. Here’s part of the piece:
Thursday’s coup brings to 12 the number since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, giving Thailand the dubious accolade of being one of the world’s most coup-prone countries. Add to that seven attempted coups.
The right of the army to intervene in political affairs is even enshrined in law.
The leader of this latest coup, military chief General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, on Tuesday cited a 1914 act which gives the military the authority to declare martial law during a crisis.
In fact, the Army has been the government’s way of life:
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 political impasse which led to the latest military takeover.
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.
Given Thailand’s history, it’s likely the coup will indeed give way to elections and, further down the road, more military intervention. If some things are as “American as apple pie,” coups in Thailand are as Thai as Pad Thai.
The question is Thailand’s role in Asia as it continues to try to find a path towards long-term stability– a path that has been so elusive for more than 80 years.
— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) May 22, 2014
Thailand coup: Military leaders ban meetings of more than five people http://t.co/L7SHP4DKoa
— The Star (@staronline) May 22, 2014
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) May 22, 2014
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.