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Thailand coup: Analysts warn military faces challenges in days ahead

Published on May 22, 2014 8:20 PM
 
Thai soldiers stand guard during a coup at the Army Club where Thailand's army chief held a meeting with all rival factions in central Bangkok on Thursday, May 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

It was an easy seizure of power, with major political faction leaders in one room at the Royal Thai Army Club in Bangkok, and clearly unable to agree on any formula that could offer a solution from the country's seven-month political crisis which has brought it perilously close to civil war.

Mr Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party, wrote on his Facebook page from the meeting room that army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha asked acting minister of justice Chaikasem Nitisiri: "So the government agreed not to resign, individually and as institution, is it correct?"

Mr Chaikasem answered: "Until this minute, (we) are not to resign."

General Prayuth then said: "Okay, then from this minute, I decide to seize power. Election Commission and Senators please leave the room.''

It is Thailand's 12th successful coup d'etat since the country switched from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932. There had been another nine unsuccessful coup attempts.

The last coup d'etat was in 2006 when the army threw out then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, again the target of anti-government protesters this time around.

The seizure of power happened in just a few minutes. Army trucks were swiftly mobilised to entrances at the Army Club. Faction leaders were bundled into vans and taken away, with an anxious media pack held at bay by apologetic soldiers.

Shortly afterwards at 5pm local time, TV screens which had gone blank minutes before broadcast General Prayuth, a member of the elite "Burapha Phayak'' or "Eastern Tigers" clique of the army, announcing that the armed forces had seized power in the name of security and stability.  

But analysts warn that the days ahead will be fraught with uncertainty.

"This is not the 60s and 70s,'' one analyst said, asking not to be named in a sign of rising apprehension over the draconian measures invoked by the army chief.

"The 2006 coup was already out of place. That was the last time people looked the other way and accepted it. But this is not the same Thailand. People will not sit still any more.''

Political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak told The Straits Times that it was unsurprising "that the martial law degenerated into a full blown coup...given the entrenched positions of the two main sides of the divide.''  He also cautioned that experience indicated that in the 21st century, it was difficult for a military coup to succeed.

Chulalongkorn University professor of political science Pitch Pongsawat said: "Now it is going to be suppression. They will not contain the (pro-government) red shirts any more, they will suppress them. It will be General Prayuth's version of peace.''

But he warned "the military can't rule the people, they need the legitimacy and they don't have it.''

''With this route to power - arresting all the leaders - who can trust them?'' 

nirmal@sph.com.sg

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