The Thai general who declared martial law has summoned the country’s political rivals for a meeting he believes could broker an end to the stand-off. The move appears to indicate the military’s intention to broaden its role in the crisis and not simply oversee law and order.
According to reports in the Thai media, General Prayuth Chan-ocha called seven different groups for a meeting at a military recreational facility on the edge of Bangkok.
“General Prayuth has called a meeting at the Army Club with all sides to talk about ways out of the country’s crisis,” deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvaree told Reuters.
The different groups invited included representatives from the government, the Phua Thai party associated with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Red Shirts movement (which has largely supported the government), the opposition Democrat party, the upper house of the parliament and the anti-government protesters whose demonstrations have undermined the government’s ability to operate. Representatives of the country’s election commission have also been invited.
The anti-government protesters have rejected proposals for an election until political reforms are carried out and want a “neutral” premier appointed by the upper house of the parliament, many of whose members are themselves unelected.
By contrast the Red Shirts, the Phua Thai party and the government have insisted that elections are the only way to democratically select an administration. They have rejected the protesters demands for an appointed premier.
Gen Prayuth had insisted his declaration of martial law did not constitute a coup because the civilian government, headed by Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, remains in place. Mr Niwatthamrong took over when Mr Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was forced to step down as premier by a controversial court two weeks ago. He has said he wants to hold fresh elections on 3 August.
Despite the general’s protestations and his vow that the army has only stepped in to end violence sparked by the stand-off, many activists and government supporters believe it is a de facto coup. The army has announced a series of curbs on the press, closed more than ten television channels and banned any criticism of the move to declare martial law.
Twenty-eight people have been killed and 700 injured since this latest chapter in a near-decade-long power struggle between supporters of Mr Thaksin and the anti-government forces flared up late last year. The turmoil has brought the country to the brink of recession and raised fears of civil war.