Thailand coup d'etat: Military seizes power after meeting with all rival factions

After imposing martial law, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha announces that he will become acting premier

Asia Correspondent

Bangkok's rush hour traffic was as brutal as ever. The only difference on Thursday evening was that the music playing from everyone's grid-locked radios came from military bands.

On Thursday afternoon, Thailand’s powerful army chief launched a coup – appointing himself acting prime minister, detaining rival political leaders and blocking domestic and international broadcasters. The newly formed National Peace and Order Maintaining Council also imposed an overnight curfew and banned gatherings of more than five people.

Two days after the military stepped in and imposed martial law, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha announced on television that for the 12th time since the country stopped being an absolute monarchy in 1932, armed forces were taking over the government. He said all but for a handful of elements, the constitution – drawn up under a previous coup regime in 2007 - had been suspended.

 

“[The army stepped] to quickly bring the situation back to normal, to let the people have love and unity as in the past, and to reform the political and economic systems, and to grant equality to every side,” he said. “We ask the public not to panic and carry on their lives normally.”

The army said it had enforced the coup in order to preserve law and order, but there is every prospect it will do the opposite. Countless thousands of supporters of the ousted government have said they will march and protest to preserve democracy. Four years ago, more than 90 people were killed in political violence that gripped the centre of Bangkok.

The coup was carried out after the army summoned the leaders of the rival factions in the country’s long-running political stand-off for the second day of talks at a military sports facility in Bangkok. The talks involving the government, the ruling Phua Thai party, the opposition Democrat party, the Red Shirt movement and the anti-government protesters known as the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), had begun on Wednesday but had failed to reach agreement.

Army spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak claimed the coup had been declared because the army had been unable to get the different groups to agree a compromise. “They did not agree at the meeting and right now the coup has been taken place,” he told The Independent. “We were trying to get an agreement.”

But many saw Gen Prayuth’s organising of the meeting as nothing less than a clever ploy. As of Thursday evening, the senior leaders of the rival factions remained in army custody and they were unable to answer their phones. A number of leaders of the Red Shirt movement were detained in other locations as well.

“It was premeditated. It was a trick. You don’t detain people because they don’t have an agreement,” said Sean Boonpracong, a political analyst and adviser to the ousted government. “They have disguised things by having martial law and lulling people to sleep. Nobody believed they would be so brazen.”

The army’s action came after months of anti-government protests by the PDRC had undermined the government backed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup but continued to pull the strings from exile in Dubai; his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected in 2011 but she was forced out of office by a controversial judicial body two months ago.

The PRDC have campaigned to oust the Thaksin family from Thailand’s politics, insisting they are corrupt and venal. They have rejected the prospect of more elections until a series of unspecified “reforms” are carried out, claiming that the system is rigged.

Yet other factors are involved. Thailand is a rapidly changing country and the supporters of Mr Thaksin remember him as someone who helped introduce affordable health care and small loans and kick-started their journey into the middle-class. The Red Shirt movement that largely supports him, believes the anti-government protesters want to reduce electoral democracy and restrict political power and the franchise to the wealthy and already powerful.

A number of analysts believe a parallel and inextricably linked factor is the behind-the-scenes power struggle over which member of the royal family will succeed the ailing monarch, 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who controls assets worth more than £18.2bn. Whoever succeeds him  will control a huge network of patronage and influence. According to the rules of succession, on the death of the king the throne should pass to Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Some analysts have said the coup could not have been launched without a green light from elements within the powerful establishment surrounding the monarchy and which are considered close to the anti-government protesters. Gen Payuth Chan-ocha is considered an arch-royalist and has been particularly close to Queen Sirikit.

On Thursday evening, the army ordered that both the anti-government protesters and the Red Shirts ended their rallies and shut-down their protest sites, and that the Shinawatras must give themselves up on Friday morning along with 18 former cabinet ministers. The anti-government protesters were allowed to go home while at a Red Shirts’ site to the east of Bangkok there were reports that Red Shirt leaders had been detained.

At an anti-government protest site located in the old quarter of Bangkok there was cheering as people filed away. A man on the stage and speaking into a microphone, declared: “We have beaten the Thaksin system - you can go home.”

One of the protesters, Raynuwi Wichaksanapong, a businesswoman, said the coup would help them secure their aims. “We need reforms before getting a new government,” she said. “A new government will be formed by elections but there need to be reforms first.”

Precisely what will play out over the coming days remains unclear. The army has already ordered that 18 government officials, including the ousted prime minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, to report to the coup authority.

There had been speculation that the military could use the senate, the upper house of the parliament whose function apparently remains in place, to appoint a successor prime minister, possibly a former army chief. But instead, just before midnight on Thursday, the military announced that Gen Prayuth was assuming that position.

“This is a very dangerous moment because they don’t want an election,” said Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer for the Red Shirts movement, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), referring to the anti-government side. “They will not hold an election until they can change the rules to make sure the Democrat party wins.”

Read more: Thailand protests: What is martial law?

The international community, which had stopped short of describing Tuesday’s imposition of martial law as a coup, condemned the army’s actions. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, said: “The UK urges the restoration of a civilian government that has been democratically elected, serves the interests of its people and fulfils its human rights obligations.”

The EU expressed “extreme concern” and said there needed to be credible, fair election as soon as possible. In a statement, it added: “The military must accept and respect the constitutional authority of the civilian power as a basic principle of democratic governance.”

The US, which is a strategic ally of Thailand and has very close links with the Royal Thai Army, said it will “review military assistance and engagements with Thailand”, according to the Reuters news agency.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game