BANGKOK (AP) — A brief interruption in some television broadcasts Thursday stoked fears of a military coup in Thailand, where an election is expected to be called within weeks, but the government said a satellite glitch was the problem.
A technical difficulty in operating a ThaiCom satellite blacked out signals for several stations over a wide part of the country, Songporn Komolsuradet, an official from the Ministry of Information and Technology, told the TPBS TV network. She said the exact cause of the problem was not immediately clear. The duration of the blackout varied, about a minute to much longer.
It set off jitters that a coup might be underway, because it seemingly confirmed widespread speculation that the military was set to seize power. Taking control of broadcasting outlets is a basic coup tactic, and Thailand’s politically assertive military has made a series of truculent statements and actions this week in a show of strength.
Military coups have been frequent in modern Thailand: 18 of them since the 1930s.
Thai politics is in a period of high anxiety as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is expected to dissolve parliament in the next few weeks for general elections. He said Thursday the elections would be held as planned and he expected the new government to be formed in August.
The election will be the next in a series of battles between opponents and supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect to Thailand’s constitutional monarch, 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The country has been politically unstable since then, most dramatically last year when the Red Shirts — made up mostly of Thaksin supporters — staged aggressive demonstrations in the middle of Bangkok seeking to drive Abhisit from power. Protest-related violence and the army crackdown that restored order killed about 90 people and injured more than 1,400.
Leaders of the Red Shirt movement just hours before Thursday’s broadcast disruption accused the army of preparing for a coup, citing two military exercises held in the capital this week, along with other actions.
The top brass have all specifically denied planning a takeover.
However, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has frequently stressed the military’s duty to protect the monarchy. Last week, he ordered a complaint lodged with police charging Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan and two others with lese majeste, alleging they insulted the monarch in speeches at an April 10 rally.
There are fears the army would not accept an election victory by the Puea Thai Party, who are the political allies of the Red Shirts and standard bearers for the cause of Thaksin, who fled into exile before being sentenced to two years for corruption.
Another key Red Shirt leader, Nattawut Saikua, said the army’s recent moves could be seen as registering dissatisfaction over alleged remarks against the monarch, but he claimed he had information that it actually amounted to “the Army’s roll call for preparedness to stage a coup.”
“Some units even announced how soon they could be ready in minutes or hours,” Nattawut said at a news conference, without revealing the source of his information.
Nattawut also claimed a high-ranking Army source said the military has been planning to block the polls because “all signs and polls have concluded that the Puea Thai Party will win the elections.”