Military muscle may constitute coup in Thailand: expert
That’s the number of times Thailand’s armed forces have wrestled control of the Southeast Asian nation from its leaders since 1932.
So, as Thailand’s military declares martial law, taking to the streets of Bangkok to restore order and seizing major television stations, are we witnessing yet another hostile takeover in the ‘land of smiles’?
It all comes down to how you read the constitution, says Dr John Blaxland from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
Blaxland said Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has invoked a little known legal clause which authorises the military to act in the face of the breakdown of order.
“He hasn’t abrogated the constitution nor removed the acting interim prime minister, Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan,” he said.
“By declaring martial law, what he’s done is generate a circuit breaker to prevent an imminent violent clash.
“But whether or not he will be successful is another matter.”
However, Blaxland notes that in the eyes of some experts, the Army’s actions constitute a legal grey zone, which may have technically breached the constitution.
General Prayuth appeared on television at 3am local time Tuesday to declare martial law. Viewers were greeted with the message “Army is to ensure safety on all sides…no need to worry.”
The move comes after months of ‘Yellow Shirt’ protests led by Opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban and the dismissal by the Constitutional Court of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – darling of the country’s ‘Red Shirts’ and sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in 2006 by military coup.
The military have surrounded both anti- and pro-government camp sites.
The situation has been made more complex by the fact that Thailand’s Senate was about to appoint a new prime minister, to replace Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan.
“This appointment would have been a pro-Opposition prime minister to sideline Thaksin’s factions and isolate the acting government,” said Blaxland.
“It was going to be done using a constitutional clause, but it is legally contentious.
“On top of it all, the acting interim, prime minister is refusing to stand down.
“At the moment politics in Thailand are extremely fraught and tenuous.”
Whether military muscle is the way to harden the country’s democratic credentials is another question entirely.
Dr John Blaxland is a former defence attaché to Thailand and Thai politics expert based at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
More: listen to an interview between Dr John Blaxland and ABC Radio Australia online.