Military coup in Thailand suspends constitution

The ruling military junta in Thailand expresses its severe disapproval with government gridlock, as reported by Fox News:

Thailand’s new military junta announced it suspended the country’s constitution Thursday.

The news came a few hours after Thailand’s army chief announced a military takeover of the government, saying the coup was necessary to restore stability and order after six months of political deadlock and turmoil.

A military statement broadcast on national television Thursday confirmed the nation’s caretaker government is no longer in power but said the Senate will remain in place.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha made the announcement in a broadcast on national television that the commission which imposed martial law Tuesday would now take control of the country’s administration.

“It is necessary for the Peace and Order Maintaining Command — which includes army, navy, armed forces and police — to take control of governing the country,” Prayuth said.

The development followed two days of army-mediated meetings between the country’s rival political leaders that failed to break the impasse. The meetings were held at an army facility in Bangkok.

I’m not sure if it’s entirely accurate to refer to this as the “new” military junta, because the recently deposed Prime Minister is the sister of the previous Prime Minister, who got bounced out of office by a military coup in 2006.  Fox News counts 12 coups since 1932.  CNN says there were nineteen total attempts, but only 12 of them succeeded.  The junta is the only thing that never really goes away.

Protesters who demanded Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ouster appeared somewhat mollified by the imposition of martial law, reportedly dispersing once the military announced it was taking charge.  Of course, the fact that gatherings, media broadcasts, and even social media posts are controlled under martial law might have helped with the dispersing.

Protesters who supported Shinawatra are less happy with these developments, and have threatened retaliation for the coup.  According to a capsule history of the unrest provided by CNN, the pro-Shinawatra forces are known by the unfortunate nickname “red shirts.”  Doesn’t anyone in Thailand watch “Star Trek?”

Thailand’s politics have been in turmoil for years, driven in large part by a schism between populists, many of them rural and poor, and a largely urban middle class and elite in Bangkok partial to the nation’s royal establishment.

The current disruption has its roots in the 2006 military ouster of billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who built a strong political base with populist policies that appealed to rural villagers in Thailand’s north.

Thaksin’s removal led to a broad-based opposition movement that came to a head with widespread demonstrations in parts of Bangkok in 2010. The military violently suppressed the protests, resulting in some 90 deaths.

A year later Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, rode a wave of opposition votes into power.

In 2013, Yingluck proposed legislation that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others. The move set off a new wave of protests and anger — this time among Bangkok’s urban elites and middle class sometimes known as “yellow shirts” — who want an end to the involvement of Thaksin’s family in Thai politics for good

In May, Thailand’s Constitutional Court removed Yingluck and nine Cabinet ministers from office, saying she had violated the Thai Constitution by reassigning a senior security official in 2011.

Populists known as “red shirts” saw her ouster as a “judicial coup” and have been protesting what they consider a bias by many of the country’s institutions against their side.

Things escalated last week when three “yellow shirt” protesters died and 23 were injured after gunmen opened fire on a protest camp. The violence prompted anominous warning from the army chief that troops would have to step in if the situation didn’t calm down.

The UK Guardian puts the current casualty list at 28 dead, over 700 injured.  All factions were supposed to come together for negotiations under the stern eye of the military, but apparently that didn’t work out, since the building where the negotiations were taking place has been surrounded by armored vehicles.  However, the meetings were not a total waste of time, because the Guardian reports that “rival leaders did tweet ‘selfies’ of themselves smiling and laughing together at the round-table discussions.”

As CNN explains, there are fears this constant political instability will jeopardize the Thai economy – they supply a great deal of computer and auto parts to Japanese and Western firms, leading to Thailand’s christening as “the Detroit of the East,” another nickname that needs to get changed pronto.  Thailand is also a U.S. treaty partner, which is a difficult relationship to maintain when you’re never sure who’s going to pick up the hotline in Bangkok.

I’d gingerly suggest returning to the monarchy that seemed relatively stable prior to 1932, but since a brother and sister from the same family have managed to enrage both sides of the rural poor/urban elite divide into violence, that probably wouldn’t work either.  At least everyone seems to understand that leaving the military formally in power forever is a bad idea.  It seems clear enough in Thailand, as elsewhere, that cronyism and abuse of power are bad ideas, too.

Update: War correspondent Michael Yon, on the ground in Thailand: “Wasn’t it just yesterday that the US Department of State said that a coup was unlikely or highly unlikely? What do we pay the CIA and NSA for? Our Embassy here is clueless.”