17:10:

BP: Editor of ThaiRath TV tweets a personal view that that the negotiations look like that they will soon come to an end. He says to look at the reactions of the parties. PDRC have returned back to Govt House. Reds and Puea Thai have not resisted.

BP: Everyone is taking a wait-and-see approach…. Chaturon (a caretaker Minister) has stated that using martial law is not the way out for the country.

More later.

16:50: As blogged last week:

The military has sought to play peacemaker up until now, but the circumstances are changing. Staging a coup will be difficult as there are divisions in the military. The folly of the 2006 coup is more fresh in their minds as well. Prayuth will know that he will assume a lot of the blame if it goes wrong, but that others would just piggy-back on a coup and gain much of the power. For him personally, it would be a high risk and low reward option.

You also have the incapacity of a certain person in a family and what influence that person had in 2006 over the military and then comparing that with another person in the same family and their new role.That complicates the situation of trying to remove the government by a coup.

Also, a coup would certainly face opposition from the red shirts.

It is hard to state definitively a coup will not happen under any circumstances but will say that it makes little rational sense for Prayuth to stage a coup. Things would need to change dramatically for that to change.

Nevertheless, if there is bloodshed, BP does expect the military to do something, but what they are most likely to do is some kind of intervention to restore law and order. BP doesn’t expect this would involved a seizure of sovereign power by the military (so no appointment of a government or ripping up of the constitution) although any actions by the military may then result in the Court or the Senate to somehow removing the government. The exact nature of the intervention is something that BP is unsure about, but it would likely involved declaring of martial law (which legally a commander has the power to do so anyway in the region they command over so it is not illegal for the military to do so). Again, then the military may force both sides to sit down at the table. Playing hero as peacemaker makes more rational sense for Prayuth than the responsibility and blame he will assume as coup leader.

BP: BP is a little surprised at the timing. Prayuth is essentially using the deaths of 3 last week to stage the intervention to restore law-and-order. Yes, there has been sporadic violence for months, but fewer people have died in the last 6 months than your average month of violence in Thailand’s Deep South. It is more of a pre-emptive intervention. A clash didn’t happen, but the rest of what is going on is not really surprising as noted above.

AFP has more of the government response:

Caretaker Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan on Tuesday urged the nation’s army to act within the “constitution”, in an official statement giving his first reaction to the military’s declaration of martial law.

Any actions need to follow a peaceful path, without violence, discrimination and with equality based on the rule of law,” the statement, attributed to the premier, said. It added that the military “must proceed under the constitution

BP: We will see how much power he has now. The Senate is not showing any signs of stopping in appointing a PM….

16:30: Reaction from the reds:

From Thaksin:

BP: Translation: “Declaration of martial law is something that could be expected from those who followed the Thai political situation recently”

BP: Translation: “However, I hope that there is no side what will restrict human rights and will undermine the democratic process more than this”

BP: Translation: “It worsens the image of Thailand; [it] undermines [the image] in the eyes of the world”

Somewhat cautious criticism….

16:15: Fellow blogger Saksith (whose more comprehensive live blog) blogged on what Prayuth told the press earlier:

When asked about if his actions require the approval of the government and what its status is, his response was: “Where is the government?”

BP:  The more Prayuth speaks the worse it will become as there is going to be confusion over what he means as when he is flustered/angry he can say anything….

16:07 Reuters:

Thailand’s army chief said rival political groups should talk to each other and that the martial law imposed on Tuesday would last until peace and order had been restored.

“We ask all sides to come and talk to find a way out for the country,” General Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.

BP: BBC has just said it is looking more and more like a silent coup….

Original post: AP:

Thailand’s army declared martial law before dawn Tuesday in a surprise announcement it said was aimed at keeping the country stable after six months of sometimes violent political unrest. The military, however, denied a coup d’etat was underway.

The move effectively places the army in charge of public security nationwide. It comes one day after the Southeast Asian country’s caretaker prime minister refused to step down and follows six months of anti-government demonstrations that have failed to oust the government.

Armed troops entered multiple private television stations in Bangkok to broadcast their message and surrounded the national police headquarters in the city center. Army jeeps mounted with a machine-guns diverted traffic on a major road in front of Central World, one of the country’s most luxurious shopping malls. But the vast metropolis of 10 million people appeared calm, and commuters could be seen driving and walking to work as usual.

An army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, told The Associated Press “this is definitely not a coup. This is only to provide safety to the people and the people can still carry on their lives as normal.

A ticker on Chanel 5, an army station, also denied the military was taking over and asked the public not to panic.

….

The military statement was signed by army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who later read it on air. He cited a 1914 law that gives the authority to intervene during times of crisis, and said it had taken the action because on-going mass rallies between political rivals “could impact the country’s security and safety of the lives and public property.”

On Monday, Thailand’s acting prime minister insisted his government will not resign, resisting pressure from a group of senators who are seeking ways to settle the country’s political crisis, and from anti-government protesters who are demanding an appointed prime minister.

A group of about 70 senators, most of whom are seen as siding with the anti-government protesters, proposed a framework on Friday that calls for a government with full power to conduct political reforms.

Reuters:

Ministers were not informed of the army’s plan before the announcement on television at 3 a.m . (4 p.m. EDT on Monday).

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military was taking charge of public security because of violent protests that had claimed lives and caused damage. Nearly 30 people have been killed since the protests began in November last year.

“We are concerned this violence could harm the country’s security in general. Then, in order to restore law and order to the country, we have declared martial law,” Prayuth said. “I’m asking all those activist groups to stop all activities and cooperate with us in seeking a way out of this crisis.”

Prayuth invited directors of government agencies and other high-ranking officials to a meeting at 2 p.m. (3 a.m. EDT), an army spokesman said. Provincial governors and top officials were summoned to meet the army at regional centers.

Thaksin said anyone following political developments could have expected martial law, and he hoped it would not undermine democracy. “I hope that no side will violate human rights and damage the democratic process more than it has already been,” he said in a rare message posted on his Twitter account (@ThaksinLive).

The army chief was moving towards imposition of martial law ever since his announcement last week,” said a senior army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He now feels that the police cannot handle security and is alarmed by grenade attacks and other incidents and the fact neither side looks like it will back down.

BP: Section 188 of the Constitution:

The King has the prerogative to declare and lift the martial law in accordance with the conditions and manner under the Martial Law.

In the case where it is necessary to declare the martial law in a certain locality as a matter of urgency, the military authority may do so under the Martial Law.

A translation of the Martial Law Act 1914 is here. The military’s declaration of martial law was for all localities of the country which is not allowed under the Constitution, although one does wonder whether this will be contested.

Unlike a State of Emergency which is a shell legislation and specific powers have to be specifically invoked (usually not all are), martial law powers can all be applied at any time.

A. Martial law gives very broad powers to the military and Section 6 of the Act makes the military superior to civilians, including the police.

B. Martial law suspends many civil rights. Some of the powers that the military has are as follows:

  • Powers of search whether person, property, or the media (Section 9)
  • Powers of prohibition regarding prohibiting assembly of persons, prohibiting dissemination of printed materials, prohibiting broadcast radio or television, prohibiting use of communication devices, requiring people to stay in their houses (curfew), prohibiting people from entering certain areas, and prohibiting any person from conducting any act (Section 11)
  • Powers of seizure of anything (Section 12)
  • Powers to detain people for 7 days (Section 15)

BP: Unlike a State of Emergency, no court permission is required before detaining people. Mass detainments, as occurred in Tak Bai, where the military stuffed over 1,000 people in trucks causing more than 80 to die have happened before. The military has a hammer and can use it.

The intervention group is called the Peace and Order Maintaining Command Centre (POMC).

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.