Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thailand: Update--Thai Military Seizes Control of Government When Mediation Fails

According to Reuters, Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized control of the government in a coup on Thursday (May 22), two days after he declared martial law, saying the military had to restore order and push through reforms after six months of turmoil.

The military declared a 2200-0500 hours curfew, suspended the constitution and told outgoing cabinet ministers to report to an army base in the north of the capital by the end of the day. Rival protest camps were ordered to disperse.

Thailand is locked in a protracted power struggle between supporters of ousted former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, and opponents backed by the royalist establishment that has polarized the country and battered its economy.

"In order for the situation to return to normal quickly and for society to love and be at peace again ... and to reform the political, economic and social structure, the military needs to take control of power," Prayuth said in the televised address.

The general made his broadcast after a meeting to which he had summoned the rival factions in Thailand's drawn-out political conflict, with the aim of finding a compromise to end six months of anti-government protests.

But no progress was made and Prayuth wound up the gathering by announcing he was seizing power, according to a participant.

COMMENT: The downside of the military curfew is that tourism will very likely come to a stand-still, plummeting the country into a worsening condition.

Hundreds of soldiers surrounded the meeting at Bangkok's Army Club shortly before the coup announcement and troops arrested Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the protests against the pro-Thaksin government.

The army had declared martial law on Tuesday May 20), saying the move was necessary to prevent violence.

Twenty-eight people have been killed and 700 injured since the anti-government protests erupted in November 2013.

Former PM and billionaire Thaksin, 64, has lived in self-exile since 2008 to avoid a jail term for graft, but still commands the loyalty of legions of rural and urban poor and exerts a huge influence over politics, most recently through a government run by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, 46.

In a first round of talks on Wednesday (May 21), Prayuth had called on the two sides to agree on a compromise that would have hinged around the appointment of an interim prime minister, political reforms and the timing of an election.

Yet, neither side backed down from their entrenched positions on Wednesday and again on Thursday, participants said, leaving the military no options.

The army has also clamped down on the media, including partisan television channels, and warned people not to spread inflammatory material on social media.

Compared to other coups and attempted coups, if citizens don't comply with the directive on proliferation on social media, the military will neutralize such communications.

Yingluck was forced to step down as PM by a court two weeks ago, but her caretaker government, buffeted by six months of protests against it, had remained nominally in power.

Thailand's gdp contracted 2.1% in January-March from the previous three months, largely because of the unrest, adding to fears it is stumbling into a recession.