Coup again

The Thai military has grabbed power yet again through a coup. Days after it declared martial law across the country, it has detained political leaders, suspended the constitution and taken control of the government.

On Tuesday when army chief General Prayuth Chan-och declared martial law, he dismissed allegations that it was in effect a coup claiming that the move was not aimed at grabbing power but at restoring law and order. Few were convinced with his claims although it is a fact that Thailand has been roiled in unrest for some time now. Over the past six months, the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) was out on the streets demanding the resignation of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Then in a dramatic development a fortnight ago, the Constitutional Court ordered the prime minister and nine other ministers to step down. Since then, violent clashes have broken out between her supporters in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the largely un-democratic and royalist PDRC.

The Thai military has rarely been averse to wielding political power. Since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, it has staged coups twelve times. It sees itself as the natural arbiter of the country’s political conflicts and the guardian of its interests. Throughout the PDRC’s protests over the last several months and the UDD’s more recent demonstrations, Gen Prayuth sought to portray the military as a neutral observer. With the staging of coup it has emerged in the open as an actor in the unfolding drama.

If the military thinks it can resolve the ongoing conflict in Thailand, it is mistaken. The current crisis after all can be traced back to the last time it grabbed power in 2006, when it ousted the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother. Its next steps will be crucial for the future of Thailand’s democracy. Should it settle down in power or even hand over power to an appointed interim government, it will severely undermine the chances of Thailand’s return to democracy.

The military could minimize the damage done by calling for fresh elections. Importantly, it must exercise the utmost restraint in dealing with the UDD and other pro-democracy activists who will pour into the streets in the coming days. Its past record in dealing with civilian unrest does not bode well. Thailand’s future is bleak. 

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