A Buddhist monk walks past a Thai soldier near the pro-government demonstration site on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand Wednesday. Pic: AP.

The army insists this isn’t a coup, reports Asia Sentinel

Thailand’s military gingerly but decisively declared martial law in the dawn hours of May 20, closing television stations and ordering Bangkok’s 10 million-odd citizens to stay calm. A military spokesman denied the crackdown was a coup as armed troops scattered throughout the city.

The military’s action was plainly taken reluctantly. Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and General Thanasak Patimaprakorn, the supreme commander of the Thai armed forces, both stated publicly last week that the military wanted nothing to do with a coup. The military earned widespread condemnation in May 2010 when, on orders of the then-ruling Democrat Party head Abhisit Vejjajiva, it attacked demonstrators to drive them out of the city following 10 weeks of protests over the ouster of an elected government, Some 90 people were killed, almost all of them civilian protesters.

The declaration was signed by Prayuth, who sounded his loudest warning last week that the country was veering toward civil war and in an official statement said the military might be forced to step in. Prayuth cited a 1914 law giving the military the authority to intervene during times of crisis.

“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.

Indeed, amid last week’s chaos, a cabal of members of the Thai Senate, most of whom are appointed by the royalty, proposed a framework that would give the opposition what it wants – an appointed government with the power to conduct political reforms that would stay in place until at some point elections would be called.

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