With Military Takeover, Thailand Has Its 12th Coup in 80 Years

The Thai military announced the coup on Thursday, following six months of political turmoil. Here’s what you need to know.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
May 22, 2014, 5:01 a.m.

The Thai army led a coup d’état on Thursday, as­sum­ing con­trol of a gov­ern­ment that has struggled through a polit­ic­al crisis for sev­er­al months.

The man be­hind the coup, Thai­l­and’s army chief, Gen. Pray­uth Chan-ocha, said it was “ne­ces­sary to seize power,” an­noun­cing the coup on tele­vi­sion. Thou­sands of pro­test­ers im­me­di­ately took to the streets, a fa­mil­i­ar sight echo­ing the past six months of polit­ic­al in­stabil­ity.

Since Decem­ber, 28 people have been killed and hun­dreds more wounded in the on­go­ing protests.

While the mil­it­ary says this move is merely meant to tem­por­ar­ily “re­form the polit­ic­al struc­ture, the eco­nomy and so­ci­ety,” it re­mains un­clear how long the army will main­tain its hold in the South­east Asi­an na­tion. Rival polit­ic­al fac­tions have been un­able to agree on a way to gov­ern mov­ing for­ward.

Polit­ic­al ten­sions have been rising in the coun­try for some time. On May 7, the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court ordered Prime Min­is­ter Yin­gluck Shinawatra to step down from power fol­low­ing al­leg­a­tions of cor­rup­tion and graft. Yin­gluck, 46, was the coun­try’s first fe­male prime min­is­ter.

But to get a sense of how long this cur­rent coup will last, look no fur­ther than the last coup, which took place in 2006.

Then, the mil­it­ary ous­ted Prime Min­is­ter Thaksin Shinawatra, the broth­er of Thai­l­and’s re­cent lead­er. He cur­rently lives in ex­ile. The mil­it­ary re­mained in power for over a year.

In his an­nounce­ment, Pray­uth noted also that the coup was to “wor­ship and pro­tect the mon­archy,” al­lud­ing to the coun­try’s ail­ing 86-year-old King Bhu­mibol Aduly­adej. Thai­l­and is a con­sti­tu­tion­al mon­archy.

This is Thai­l­and’s 12th suc­cess­ful coup since 1932, when the coun­try’s ab­so­lute mon­archy dis­solved. There have been sev­en oth­er at­temp­ted coups.

In re­sponse to the mil­it­ary de­clar­ing mar­tial law in Thai­l­and earli­er this week, the White House gave a cook­ie-cut­ter re­sponse fit for any coun­try vaguely in this situ­ation. Press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney said the U.S. is mon­it­or­ing the situ­ation and is very con­cerned about the polit­ic­al crisis.

“The U.S. firmly be­lieves that all parties must ex­er­cise re­straint and work to­geth­er to re­solve dif­fer­ences through peace­ful dia­logue to find a way for­ward,” Car­ney told re­port­ers at Tues­day’s daily brief­ing. “This de­vel­op­ment un­der­scores the need for elec­tions to de­term­ine the will of the Thai people.”

At the heart of the polit­ic­al ten­sions are two groups. CNN ex­plains:

Those are the so-called yel­low shirts, pre­dom­in­ately urb­an, middle-class sup­port­ers of the roy­al­ist es­tab­lish­ment. They’ve been sta­ging massive protests in the coun­try’s cap­it­al for months and boy­cot­ted elec­tions in Feb­ru­ary.

Back­ing the gov­ern­ment are the so-called red shirts, many of whom hail from the coun­try’s rur­al north and north­east.

This is the latest ouster in a series of polit­ic­al crises around the world, from Egypt to Ukraine.

UP­DATE

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry later on Thursday said he was “dis­ap­poin­ted” with the de­cision by the mil­it­ary to stage a coup and sus­pend the con­sti­tu­tion of Thai­l­and, say­ing, “There is no jus­ti­fic­a­tion” for it.

“I am con­cerned by re­ports that seni­or polit­ic­al lead­ers of Thai­l­and’s ma­jor parties have been de­tained and call for their re­lease,” Kerry said in a state­ment. “I am also con­cerned that me­dia out­lets have been shut down. I urge the res­tor­a­tion of ci­vil­ian gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately, a re­turn to demo­cracy, and re­spect for hu­man rights and fun­da­ment­al freedoms, such as press freedoms.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Kerry called for new elec­tions. While he noted the “long friend­ship” with the Thai people, Kerry said this will have “neg­at­ive im­plic­a­tions” for the re­la­tion­ship between the U.S. and Thai­l­and, con­sid­er­ing the U.S. law that re­stricts mil­it­ary as­sist­ance to coun­tries that stage coups.

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