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Thai Army declares martial law (4)

(Part 1; part 2; part 3.)

It's now 8AM in Bangkok and in a perfect world I would have caught up with all the events of their night (my day) already. In fact, I have not, so in a little bit I'm going to be overwhelmed again by tweets, unless the Generals shut down social media, and even then there will be plenty of leaks in their system. So I'm going to start out with three photographs, do some Q&A, then sum up what the useful bigfoots had to say, and then try to catch up with events. I don't think I'll stay up until 5AM, though (their 4PM) so I may miss something important.... [UPDATE: As puzzle pieces fall into place, another question and another answer often seems better to me than using a timeline format. So, if you're returning to the post, the Q&A may have changed!]

And why is this important? Well, what we're doing, in a far more pure form than in Ukraine, is watching a country and it's people(s?) decide what form of government they're going to live with (or under). That the country is an economic powerhouse, has a brilliant culture, and that I have personal ties there, as well as potential interests -- these are also draws for me. I confess, too, that the Game of Thrones-style complexity and theatricality appeals to me as well: What will be today's reveal?

Here's the first photograph, a normal Bangkok street.

Figure 1

"Remarkably calm" for Bangkok, that is. Dunno what the white dude, the farang, is carrying, but that is the BTS, the Sky Train, in the background at right, so it's probably on Sukhumvit, where the foreigners are thick on the ground.

Figure 2
And then there are the selfies; we saw one yesterday, here's another:

Figure 3
And then there's this. Note the contrast:

You can see the class difference, right? My basic concern here is that I don't want the women in Figure 3 to be saying "The soldiers shot my child." But I also don't want the women in Figure 2 to say "Yes, the soldiers shot 1000 of those dirty Red animals, but it had to be done." I don't want to have either conversation; I realize that this is inconsistent, since after I believe the the 100,000s who died in the Civil War did so for a good purpose, but there it is. It is true, I think that every nation-state is born in massacre, and perhaps modern Thailand is no different; but I had hoped, still hope, that the massacre of 2010 would do the trick. Perhaps, and perhaps not. Soldiers carry guns for a reason.

* * *

And now for some Q & A!

1. Is it martial law? Or coup?

Above: The Army says no, and others say now the government was, in fact, contacted.

Some experts say no. Bangkok Pundit cites to:

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.

Other Thai sources (I can't find the tweets) argued yesterday that we are seeing a new kind of coup, a "clever" coup, or a slow-motion coup. Western sources call it a "de facto" coup (as if there were such a thing as a de jure coup).

2. Might it turn into coup later?


From the Western perspective, this is important, because if Thailand has undergone a coup, then military aid must be cut off. However, Obama decided that the Egyptian coup wasn't really a coup, so I'm not sure how hard fast that law really is.

3. Was is legal for the Army to declare martial law?

Scholars say no. Pratchathai:

Thammasat University law scholars ‘Nitirat’ has called on the government to revoke the Martial law which was declared by the army early Tuesday morning, saying that the law was declared arbitrarily without the approval of the King.

The group said the constitution stipulated that Martial law must have the prime minister countersigned the royal command. However, the Army Chief signed the law by himself without the royal order.

(I know that Nitirat have strong views on the law; at the same time, if it's OK to declare Martial Law with no royal decree (assuming that's "command") then the Army gets to declare Martial Law whenever it wants, with no checks and balances at all. UPDATE: But according to Siam Intelligence Unit that's how the 100-year-old law that Prayuth used was written.)

4. How does martial law end?

By royal decree. (Though I have to say that an infographic on martial law makes me feel a little disoriented.)

5. What was the Army's reasoning in declaring martial law?

Basically, order.

Now, it is true that Army generals all over the world like order a lot. However, in this case it looks pretty clear that both the Yellows and the Reds were gearing up for violence, no matter how caused, and no matter how justified, and no matter "who started it." The Yellows were building earthworks at Democracy Monument, and the Reds were having mass memorials for their 2010 dead -- remember, this time is the anniversary of that massacre -- and that sure looks, from this side of the world, like gearing up for another round. So, very personally, I credit Prayuth with the possibility of good, or at least larger, motives. Whether Prayuth turns out to be a Macarthur (say) or one of those Greek Generals or a Pinochet or something in between we just don't know. Put it this way: I don't see him as a General with sunglasses yet; no declarations about wearing your underwear on the outside, or anything like that.

6. How long will this go on?

Not sure how this jibes with yet more marches by PDRC and that ginormous flaccid sphincter, Suthep, but I suppose it's barely possible all that happening so that Suthep and the Marchers can save face.

7. Has anybody seen the government?

The loose end here is that "safe house" story. But at least Caretaker PM Niwattumrong didn't fly to Dubai! [UPDATE More on the safe house from AFP:

Thailand's cabinet has been barred from using its crisis headquarters and is working from a secret location, a government official said on Wednesday, a day after the military imposed martial law.

The office of the permanent secretary for the defence ministry told the embattled government it could no longer use the facilities where it had been meeting since opposition protesters surrounded its main headquarters months ago, said the official, who did not want to be named.

"The government is now using a safe house," added the official.


8. What about press censorship?

Order No. 1:

Order No 1 is regarding the broadcast of community radio stations, television broadcasters (satellite and cable), and radio stations and orders them to suspend broadcasting when they are contacted ( ห้ถ่ายทอด ออกรายการจากสถานีวิทยุโทรทัศน์กองทัพบกเมื่อได้รับการประสาน). This is order that there is broadcast of news to the people that is correct/right ( เพื่อให้การเผยแพร่ข่าวสารไปสู่ประชาชนเป็นไปด้วยความถูกต้อง)

BP: So the military will the arbitrator of what is right/correct. The result is that 3,000 community radio stations were shut down as well as 11 cable and satellite TV stations from both the red and the anti-Thaksin side…

Note that this is one thing that seems even-handed, but isn't. Yes, both sides have their TV stations shut down, but the entire community radio system gets shut down, and that's huge in the North/Northeast (it's one reason I'm hopeful about their civil society). So community radio is important to the Reds and they lose it, but not important to the Yellows.

9. What about elections?

But don't get too excited; the head of the EC hates elections, and doesn't want to hold them if there's a threat of any kind of civil disorder, which the PDCR deliberately created in the last election.

Above: Photo from that meeting, with Suthep all smiles; he and the EC worked hand and glove to sabotage the election in February. Yay.

10. Will the Red Shirts invade Bangkok?

Seems dubious:

Presenter: Sen Lam:

Speaker: Jaran Ditapichai, Red Shirt leader and former Human Rights Commissioner, Thailand

LAM: And Mr Jaran, the military says the martial law was imposed to be a circuit-breaker to help resolve the political stalemate, to help both sides to take a deep breath before the next step. What do you think should be the next step?

JARAN: Possibly, the crisis would be declined, the crisis would be declined possibly. But later, sooner or later, the army would abolish the Constitution.

LAM: You think the army will take over eventually. But just very quickly, Mr Jaran, do you expect the Red Shirts to go to Bangkok to launch protests?

JARAN: No, no, no, no. They will go, I mean there will be protests in several provinces, but not in Bangkok.

LAM: In the provinces, and not in Bangkok. All right we'll have to leave it there. Thank you.

JARAN: Because now, there're soldiers everywhere, there are soldiers everywhere.

Use it or lose it....

11. What's going to happen next?

Bangkok Pundit gives this range of possibilities:

Now, we wait to see whether this will lead to the (a) removal of the Acting Caretaker PM and installing of an Appointed PM with reforms of 1-2 years (or even longer) or the (b) military restoring order to allow for elections and maybe a referendum before the end of the year. (a) and (b) you could say are black and white with shades of grey in between.

The future lies ahead!

* * *

So, to the bigfoots. Siam Intelligence Unit in Bangkok gives the following overview:

Thailand Under Martial Law: What’s Next?

We believe there are two main possible scenarios:

The better one: Prayuth will consult the acting government, political leaders, the Senate, the Election Commission of Thailand (ETC) to set the new general election. Political protests will be prohibited at all. The Shinawatra family might skip the election to avoid further conflict and let other Phue Thai leaders compete instead. The opposing Democrat Party returns to the election. The new government (very likely for Phue Thai) will lead the reformation process and constitution amendment.

In this scenario, the red shirts will be ok if the election will happen. PDRC supporters might feel better if the election will happen under martial law. Prayuth will be considered as ‘an external judge’ to bring peace back to the country (though not in the full democratic way).

The worse one: Prayuth will let the Senate (only remaining political institution, also closed to PCRC) act as the full parliament. The Senate will choose the acting Prime Minister and cabinet, which might be unconstitutional. The new cabinet will face a big opposition from the red shirts. Since the martial law prohibits any political activities, the red shirts will go underground. Thailand might face the insurgency nationwide.

Thailand’s future in the next few decades is now under Prayuth’s hand. We should know soon what he will choose.

Amplifying what Bangkok Pundit said above.

* * *

Here's one view from the investing community:

* * *

Editorials in the major English-language (Thai-owned, edited, and managed) newspapers:

Gutsy editorial and strong metaphor from PravitR in The Nation, which is and has been a strong Yellow supporter (basically in the FOX class, but less subtly):

When you develop acute diarrhoea while travelling, you can resort to taking a pill that will quickly ease the illness - although all the rotten faeces is still in your system and it won't solve your problem in the long run. The medicine simply controls the diarrhoea and stops you from running to the washroom every 10 minutes - but it doesn't heal the infection inside your stomach.
If Thailand is like a human body, then Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has done just that to Thailand by imposing martial law at the odd hour of 3 o'clock yesterday morning.

Martial law as a drug to suppress political diarrhoea won't solve anything in the long run, however. As this article is being written, it's not even clear how long this draconian law, which significantly curtailed civil liberties - including allowing detention without court order for a week - will last.

I do not recall having voted for General Prayuth, nor handing him my consent to rule over me and the rest of us like a dictator. ...

Newspapers and the rest of the print media have been instructed to refrain from printing anything that could affect "peace and order". This could be interpreted as anything deemed as inappropriate by Prayuth.

Let us take a deep breath and consider what it will do for us, a Thailand under martial law. The baht has already plunged, the stock market nosedived and one man wields sweeping power, indefinitely.

What martial law can never teach us is how to solve political conflicts in a lasting manner.

Neither democracy nor lasting peace and order can be achieved by coercion. By trying to maintain peace and order indefinitely, Prayuth may have to rely on martial law indefinitely. But by trying to maintain martial law forever, Thailand will end up becoming a dictatorship.

Let us for once rise above the occasion and remind General Prayuth that we do not want to place Thailand on the path of military dictatorship once again.

The cycle of military intervention with 18 coups in eight decades has to end for Thais to grow up and learn to take responsibility for themselves.

You may mean well, General Prayuth. And I hope this is the case. But what you are doing now is a disservice to Thailand.

And in the slightly less histrionic Bangkok Post from Songkran Grachangnetara:

Let me put my head on the chopping block and put forth my own analysis. If I’m wrong I deserve a big slice of humble pie for supper.

In my view martial law will not be the pretext for another military coup; rather it is the pretext for People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban and his followers to be able to step down with minimum humiliation.

Ask any military general — if someone has to hoodwink their troops into fighting 13 “final” battles to save the nation, it’s a genuine sign of desperation. Out of political options, out of allies and more importantly out of cash, Mr Suthep is, in a way, begging to be put out of his misery.

The PDRC, in essence, want what President Nixon wanted towards the end of the Vietnam War —  “Peace with honour”, and a face-saving measure for a war that could never be won.

This declaration of martial law is being stage-managed and all the actors are ready to play their part. But for once this may be a good sign. I vehemently believe that anyone who has been on the side of the PDRC in this epic political struggle will be on the wrong side of history.

The Democrat Party’s intimate association with a movement brimming with fascist tendencies was more or less the final electoral nail in its coffin and will probably permanently taint the once spritely careers of many promising politicians, several of whom are my best friends.

The PDRC has failed miserably. They won’t admit it, but the truth hurts and so it should. These protests have more or less wiped a couple of percentage points off our GDP. They have made our society even more divided and irreparably damaged our reputation as a peace loving Buddhist nation.

More pertinently, they have raised reasonable doubt about the impartiality of our judiciary and independent agencies, which has shaken Thailand’s political and social foundations to the very core.

However, our immediate future rests upon the broad shoulders of the army chief, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. All eyes will now be on him and the international press are all but ready for another modern-day military coup to make headlines. ....

By all accounts the last coup-installed government under Gen Surayud Chulanont was an unmitigated disaster. The army-backed Abhisit Vejjajiva administration was a belly flop of biblical proportions.

But more importantly, this time, a military junta will have a steaming mass of red-shirt activists to contend with because it’s unlikely they will take this one lying down.

Therefore, I would urge the army to take this rare opportunity to bring peace back to this nation.

Only the army can force both sides of this conflict to come to heel. Thaksin Shinawatra and his political machinery should also take this opportunity to put the public interest before their own political machinations, while the PDRC and the Democrat Party have to acknowledge that suspending democracy whenever it suits them can never be the answer.

We all know reform is desperately needed but the army must realise that the nation is too divided for an appointed prime minister who lacks legitimacy. We must cease and desist in doing the right thing the wrong way. We must take the high road and do the right thing the right way for a change, and that means a programme of reform that is done within the parameters of democracy.

Forget about an “impartial” prime minister. There is no such person at this stage of the conflict, and it would be naive to think otherwise. The only “impartial” individuals in Thailand at this point are “the people”, and in a democracy the highest office of the land has to be occupied by someone who the people have chosen.

I hope whoever matters in this situation reads those words and takes them to heart.

* * *

It's quiet. Too quiet? AP:

Thailand began its second day under martial law Wednesday with little visible military presence on the streets of Bangkok as residents tried to make sense of the dramatic turn of events after six months of anti-government protests and political turmoil.

Several meetings were planned behind closed doors among senior government officials, opposition party leaders, the Election Commission and others a day after the country's powerful army chief invoked the military's expanded powers and issued more than a dozen edicts that included broad powers of censorship over the media, the Internet and vaguely defined threats to prosecute opponents.

But around Bangkok, there was little sign of any change, and most soldiers that had occupied key intersections around the capital had withdrawn. People went about their work normally, students went to school, and the traffic was snarled as it would be any other weekday in this bustling city.

"After 24 hours of martial law, I have not spotted a single soldier," said Buntham Lertpatraporn, a 50-year-old vendor of Thai-style doughnuts in the capital's central business district along Silom Road. "I've only seen soldiers on TV."

"My life has not changed at all," he said. "But in my mind I feel a little frightened, because I don't know how it will end."

You and me both, pal. (Silom Road is near Lumpini Park, where the PRDC/Yellows had their encampment this year, and where the UDD/Reds had a camp in 2010. So I wonder if the vendor made good money on the donuts both times?)

* * *

* * *

Lunch time approaches and some decisions are being emitted from behind the various closed doors:

Above: Looks like this is going to happen on time!

Above: Looks like "shelter in place" for both Reds and Yellows. Man, if I were an ordinary schlub on Sukhumvit Road or Silom, and I knew I didn't have to deal any more with Suthep's marches or his stringy, drugged out guards, I'd be blessing Prayuth's name and civil liberties be damned. The protests stopped being sanuk a long, long time ago.

* * *

From 2Bangkok, which I normally read for the cartoons, but this is very fine:

There is something frightening and attention-grabbing about the phrase “martial law,” but it is important to understand how insular Thais are despite the nation’s reliance on tourism and exports. Many in the establishment will think nothing of taking the country though years of turmoil to ensure a desired future where the current range of powers maintain their prerogatives.

In their mind, they fear of the dominance of one party with the will to rewrite the rules in its favor and shut other parties out of power. How these events eventually work out have the potential to destroy the conception of the nation that they built over the decades—a political playing field where no party reins supreme presided over by a benevolent monarch who serves as a symbol of selflessness in contrast with the venality of creeping democratic politics.

This view is not supposed to be judged true nor false, but is a kind of self-stereotype that underpins nation building. It has been challenged as never before by electoral politics in the last 15 years and openly mocked by a new generation of politicians who continue to ride Thaksin’s political coattails. And now the Thai military is again wading into the fray.

Coming weeks and months will see efforts to stall elections with a far-off election date set to placate government supporters and foreign observers. In the meantime plans for a new government will be floated and endlessly debated, all in an effort to sap Thaksin’s political capital. The new government will be understood to be a tool to both delay as well as retool the political system to ensure that no single political party can use an electoral majority to simply rewrite the constitution in a way that threatens the existing political power balance.

Whether all the stakeholders involved can really join together to make this happen is uncertain, but this is the establishment’s last, best hope to finally isolate Thaksin–and they have never been this close before.

A banker's view from Asia Sentinel:

“It’s a coup that doesn’t have to throw away the government because there is no government to kick out,” said a Thai businessman. “It will be interesting to see how they form the government under military control.”

The businessman’s question now is who, if anybody, the military will answer to. The pro-royalist forces have been seeking to lure the uniforms into a takeover ever since the protests began on the theory that, if forced into action, the military would ultimately back the royalists. However, it was unclear whether that was true. Prayuth worked closely with the deposed former Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, during her two-plus years in office. He has played a careful game, endeavoring to remain neutral.

“He is actually playing his cards impeccably, and ultimately he is the only thing that keeps the country from going the way of Syria,” said an American banker [!!] and longtime Thailand resident. That may be a certain amount of hyperbole, but many believe the escalating violence had to be brought to an end before a major tragedy blew out.

There appears no possibility for compromise. The contempt of the ruling elites and the Bangkok bourgeoisie for the northerners has gone beyond rational, the banker said. Despite a widespread belief that a battle for primacy between the ailing king’s children is at stake, the situation boiled down to the fact that the circles the banker moves in see the Red Shirts as children and bumpkins incapable of fending for themselves, taken in by Thaksin, a charlatan and thug bent on establishing a dictatorship and stealing their wealth. Negotiations were out of the question, he continued. The elites want Thaksin dead or out of the country forever, along with his family.

So, it will be interesting what Prayuth does. I keep thinking the UDD/Reds should throw Thaksin under the bus and trade electoral Democracy for him. That could amound to leaving the 2007 Constitution in place, since after all the Reds keep winning elections under it, even though it's totally rigged against them. And there could be additional forms of horse-trading around some devolution of of authority from Bangkok to the regions. Then that pustule and wart Suthep could go back there and be the governor or something.

So, the first big meeting chaired by Prayuth: All sides meeting, including representatives of the missing-in-action government. No photos, 200 reporters standing out in the sun. But it looks like the Thais aren't going to massacre each other today. So I'm going to bed!

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Submitted by lambert on

There are plenty of times I don't agree with him, but he's open about where he's coming from and doesn't make shit up, so far as I can tell. And that's really well-wrought, no-fluff summation. This caught my eye:

Before today's invocation of martial law, some analysts feared a worst case scenario of PDRC and UDD supporters armed with military grade weapons clashing in running street battles across the national capital. That scenario foresaw low-ranking soldiers in plain clothes fomenting the conflict while top-brass leaders claimed neutrality and refused to intervene until the death and destruction reached a level high enough that Western governments would agree to the military's restoration of order without triggering coup-related sanctions.

I can buy that. I'm remembering, in connection with the Popcorn dude shooting, a photo guy with no hands on the PDR side; likely a bomb-maker. Not to say UDD doesn't have equivalent, but to say that there's a ton of shadowy stuff going on at the "grass roots" too.

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

Very interesting. Thanks for all your work on this! (And an ignoramus like me has a much easier time following with the added explanations :D )

Submitted by lambert on

For a politics junkie there are so many fascinating stories, layers and layers and layers... And we are watching a country choose.... The people chose, several times, and each time the elites took the choice away from them (which is why I regard "that' up to the Thai people" as a wee bit disingenuous). OTOH, as the Federalist Papers clearly show, and our own experience tells us, the Constitution was designed to check and balance democracy, and has. We have no monopoly on wisdom in this area and are in no way "exceptional."