After months of political turmoil between pro-government “red shirts” and anti-government “yellow shirts,” the Thai military launched a coup on May 22, 2014.  This comes in the wake of the declaration of martial law on the 20th.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra suspended the lower house of parliament last year.  Her administration has been plagued by accusations of corruption, especially from the wealthier side of Thai society, and the country has been plagued by unrest ever since the ouster of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, as prime minister in 2006.  The Thaksin family’s populist policies have all but bankrupted the country, and destroyed its primary export.  By subsidizing rice with government money (attempting to buy political capital with the poorer rural Thais), the Thaksin regime (and it is widely believed that Thaksin has been running his sister’s administration by remote) has driven up the price of Thai rice, leading India and Vietnam to undercut the Thai price.  The result has been a disaster for the Thai economy.   Early this month, a court ordered President Yingluck’s removal for abuse of power.  Most of the unrest can be traced to a power struggle between Thaksin, a telecom tycoon, and the royalists.  Thailand’s king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has previously mediated the power struggles in the country, but as he ages, his influence is waning.

While the anti-government “yellow shirts” are demanding electoral reforms to remove Thaksin’s influence, the “red shirts” are demanding early elections, confident that the Thaksin camp will easily win it.  Neither side has so far budged.

There have been extensive clashes between pro- and anti-government protestors over the last few months, resulting in 28 civilian deaths and over 700 wounded since November.  The martial law decree came in order to “restore order and investor confidence.”  When martial law was initially declared on Tuesday morning, the military insisted it was not a coup, that it was not interfering with the caretaker government, and was only maintaining order for talks to go forward between political rivals.  General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief, said, “We ask all sides to come and talk to find a way out for the country.”  Two days later, the Army apparently decided it wasn’t working, and officially announced the 12th military coup in Thailand since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

Protest marches were already banned with the declaration of martial law, and 10 satellite TV channels were ordered to stop broadcasting.  With the announcement of the coup, the constitution is suspended (except for the clause about the monarchy; that the military is not willing to dissolve), no political gatherings of more than 5 people are allowed, and the country is under curfew from 2200 to 0500.  All members of the government have been ordered to report to the military.  General Prayuth Chan-ocha said, “We ask the public not to panic, and to carry on their lives normally.”

Troops fired into the air to disperse protestors at the “red shirt” and “yellow shirt” camps, where the protestors had been confined by the military since Tuesday.  They also detained several politicians, summoning some 155 to report to the military.

The coup has placed General Prayuth in charge of the country, a position several observers have said he appears reluctant to take.  A Reuters report described his demeanor in speaking to the two sides as “like an exasperated schoolmaster.”  Prayuth is only months away from retirement, but following a grenade attack last week that killed 3 and wounded 20, he warned that action might have to be taken.

Image courtesy Straits Times