Thailand’s Military Coup: The Implications


By John Richardson

AS THAILAND wakes up to the shock that Tuesday’s declaration of martial law has morphed into a full-scale military coup, you have to ask this question: How is this going to solve anything?

The imposition of martial law was designed to bring the two political sides together in attempt to broker a compromise. But given that the political divisions in Thailand date right back to 2001, when Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters first took control of government, two days of military-organised discussions hardly seem to be enough time.

“The army clearly had no sincerity in brokering talks,” said Michael Connors, a Southeast Asia expert and associate professor at the Malaysia campus of the University of Nottingham, in the UK, told the Guardian newspaper.

“In retrospect [the coup] must have been calculated, and it looks like the [declaration of] martial law was just a pretext to deliver a strategic advantage to the coup group.”

There have now been 12 coups in Thailand since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, some of which have been reasonably peaceful.

But Connors warned that this time might be different.

“They’ve never had a coup like this, in which this potential of mass resistance is so strong. It’s only imaginable that this coup will be incredibly repressive as a response.”

Rightly or wrongly, a common perception is that the military is closer to the yellow shirts – the opposition People’s Alliance For Democracy (PAD). This why a clash with the once-governing  Pheu Thai Party, the red shirts, could happen.

At the heart of Thailand’s problem are the deep social, political and economic divisions between the pro-Thaksin supporters, who tend to be rural and poor, and the urban middle classes who usually back the PAD.

Can martial law really heal these divisions?

We love Thailand, it is a great country, and we hope that all the above is way too pessimistic and that a way through this crisis, to a long-term resolution, will be found.

At stake, of course, is the health of the local economy and Thailand’s plans to drive refinery-petrochemicals and other industrial and infrastructure development across the ASEAN region.

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