Thai Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, right, speaks as navy Chief Adm. Narong Pipatthanasant, left, looks on during a meeting with high ranking officials at the Army Club in Bangkok after declaring martial law Tuesday. Pic: AP.

By Isriya Paireepairit

Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), recently announced that last weekend would be the ‘final showdown’ of his six-month protest. As Thais wondered if there could be any solution in sight, last night at 3am the military made its move with the declaration of martial law.

The story so far

Martial law prohibits any political gathering in the country and allows the military to ‘cease and investigate’ anything they consider important.

By 12pm Tuesday, local time, Thai Royal Army led by Commander-in-Chief General Prayuth Chan-oha had announced several significant changes:

  • Thailand is now under martial law, nationwide.
  • The foundation of the Peace Keeping Command Center (PKCC), the new internal security command center under the martial law. Gen. Prayuth will command the PKCC.
  • The dissolution of Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), the internal security command center of the Pheu Thai government under the Internal Security Act. All the forces under CAPO will transfer to PKCC.
  • TV and radio stations need to live broadcast PKCC announcements on army request. They are also prohibited from disseminating ‘controversial news’.
  • Political satellite TV and radio stations from both political sides are suspended. Ten satellite TV stations are suspended.
  • Heads of government agencies and independent agencies need to report to the military command throughout the country.
  • Seizure of Government House in Bangkok from the PDRC.

The PDRC announced that they will stay in place (Ratchadamnoen Avenue in central Bangkok) to ‘wait and see’ what the PKCC will do today. The Red Shirt protesters will stay on at Utthayan Avenue outside Bangkok as well. Both groups were ordered not to leave their respective rally sites.

Analysis

In theory, the declaration of martial law is lawful. The army insisted that it is not the coup d’etat and the current acting government remains in place.

In practice, while it is not an ‘official coup’, it is clearly a ‘military intervention’. The acting Pheu Thai government is still in force but their power on security matters is now transferred to the army. Some might say it is ‘phantom coup’ or ‘disguised coup’.

The impact of martial law can be analyzed in the short-, middle-, and long-term:

  • Short-term (this week): Martial law will suppress rallies from both protester sites. We should see a temporary peace in Bangkok (with soldiers everywhere) for a few days.
  • Middle-term (this month and next month): The ‘vacuum of power’ problem remains. Thailand has no official government and the lower house was dissolved last December. We will have the acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan for normal day-to-day duty but he needs to consult Gen. Prayuth on anything related to politics and security.
  • Long-term: The big problem remains. Thailand has been in a big transition toward modernity. The country needs to define the new political architecture in the next era.

We believe Gen. Prayuth himself acted independently of the PDRC, but his move is definitely in keeping with what the PDRC has been asking for – a ‘military intervention’. The army has been closely tied to the conservative forces for long time. Gen. Prayuth is considered as a hardliner and served in the ‘queen bodyguard’ infantry. He was also a high-level commander in 2006 coup against the Thaksin government.

It is very likely that the PDRC will cease its activities in the next few days and announce ‘victory’. Suthep’s movement has lost a lot of the backing it enjoyed earlier in the protests and the declaration of martial law is a good opportunity for a face-saving exit.

Martial law causes a big negative impact to the red shirts, which was against the army and any military intervention from the start. A clash between the red shirts and the army is possible but depends on the PKCC’s movement in the next few days.

Possible Scenarios

As stated above, martial law is just a short-term intervention. Thailand needs to find the solution for the political vacuum.

The law states that martial law can be declared by the army but can only be revoked through royal command. This means Prayuth needs to find the way to solve Thailand’s political crisis and then submit a request to King Bhumibol to lift the martial law condition.

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 a date for a new general election. Political protests will be prohibited. The Shinawatra family might skip the election to avoid further conflict and let other Pheu Thai leaders compete instead. The opposing Democrat Party returns to the election process. The new government (very likely led by Pheu Thai) will lead the reformation process and constitution amendment.

In this scenario, an election will appease the red shirts. PDRC supporters might feel better if the election too kplace 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 lets the Senate act as the full parliament. The Senate would appoint a new Prime Minister and Cabinet, which might be unconstitutional. Such a Cabinet would face major opposition from the red shirts. Since martial law prohibits any political activities, the red shirts will go underground. Thailand might face the insurgency nationwide.

Thailand’s political future now hangs in the balance

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Author Bio: Isriya Paireepairit is an analyst from Siam Intelligence Unit (SIU), a private think tank specializing in politics and economics based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be reached at markpeak@siamintelligence.com and www.siu.co.th.