The coup in Thailand, launched two weeks ago, and the response to it have passed through several phases.
At first there was a sense of shock – no matter that the army had carried out at least 12 previous take-overs (experts argue about the precise total); people struggled to accept the generals really wanted the responsibility and challenge of running the country. Even those who had been calling for the army to step in could hardly believe it.
After a couple of days, this turned to seething anger. Small groups of protesters went face to face with the troops and yelled at them to go back to their barracks. They had struggled for democracy, they insisted, and the soldiers had no right to take it away.
Now the coup is going through a surreal phase. Anti-coup protesters have taken to demonstrating by making the three-fingered salute seen in The Hunger Games films, protesting against what they consider to be nothing short of tyranny. The army has said it may arrest anyone who makes the sign.
However the troops’ supporters, including newly-wed couples, have been posing with the soldiers or in front of their armoured vehicles. The junta has been organising concerts of military music and offering free hair-cuts and dessert to people.
“Thai people, like me, have probably not been happy for nine years, but since 22 May, there is happiness,” claimed General Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader of the junta.
Many of the reports about what has happened since the army seized control of the government, have focused on how calm things have been. There has been no bloodshed, tourists have not been much affected and in resorts such as Pattaya, Phuket and Koh Samui, the curfew has ended. The protesters who had brought parts of Bangkok to a halt have gone home and it would appear life is going on pretty much as before.
But that would ignore the significance of what took place two weeks ago.
The causes of Thailand’s political gridlock are complex. Anti-government protesters, who for months demanded the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, wanted to rid Thailand of her influence and that of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon and former premier who was forced out in a coup in 2006.
Many of Mr Thaksin’s supporters were working-class and lower middle-class Thais, especially in the north and north-east, who had benefited from his welfare policies and government loan schemes. In doing so, they had become increasingly empowered politically, and aware of their rights.
Thailand protests: Thai army declares martial law
Thailand protests: Thai army declares martial law
A Thai soldier stands in front of a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he patrols near government buildings in Bangkok
A pro-government protester points at a soldier during a cleanup at a pro-government demonstration site on the outskirts of Bangkok
Thai soldiers patrol near government buildings in Bangkok
A soldier walks past barefoot Buddhist monks begging for alms outside a temple near Government House in Bangkok
Thai police and army soldiers stand guard outside a military compound before former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives to report to Thailand's ruling military in Bangkok
Thai soldiers stand guard at a roadblock outside the Defence Ministry building (background) after Thailand's army chief announced that the armed forces were seizing power in Bangkok
Thai soldiers patrol after army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met with anti-government and pro-government leaders at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai police and military display a haul of weapons seized during recent raids since the imposition of martial law, at a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai soldiers stand next to the portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej after the declaration of martial law at the Army Club in Bangkok. Thai Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, declared martial law giving the military full control to prevent further protest-related violence in the country
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (R) gives a traditional greeting to a soldier before leaving Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's army chief said rival political groups should talk to each other and that the martial law imposed would last until peace and order had been restored
A Thai soldier stands outside the Government Public Relations Department in Bangkok
Thai soldiers man a checkpoint near pro-government "red shirt" supporters encampment in suburbs of Bangkok
(L-R) Thai Police Chief Adul Saengsingkaew, Navy Chief Adm Narong Pipattanasai, Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and Air Chief Marshall Prachin Chantong during a meeting at the Army Club in Bangkok. Thailand has been wracked by six months of non-stop protests seeking to topple the government. At least 25 people have died in political-related violence and more than 700 injured
Motorists on their way as Thai soldiers take to the streets with a heavy machine gun on a Humvee military vehicle at a main road outside the Royal Thai Police Sports Club in Bangkok
Outside police headquarters in Bangkok
An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag during a rally outside the Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's Senate said it was ready to choose an interim prime minister to end a political deadlock but stopped short of throwing out a beleaguered caretaker government and risking a violent backlash by its supporters
Thai anti-government protesters shout slogans during a rally in front of the Parliament as senators debate to find and end to the country's political conflict in Bangkok. Thousands of anti-government protesters rallied the area surrounding parliament and Government House to pressure the Senate to appoint an interim government to institute political reforms before new elections while key Thai institutions are resisting the opposition's demands
Thai anti-government protesters gather in front of the Parliament in Bangkok
Thai riot policemen stand guard during an anti-government protest rally at the Air Force auditorium in Bangkok. Thailand's Election Commission called for the postponement of key parliamentary polls due to be held on 20 July 2014 because of political unrest shaking the kingdom
Anti-government protesters leave an air force base after breaking into its grounds in Bangkok. Protesters seeking to oust Thailand's government broke into the grounds of an air force compound where the acting prime minister was meeting the Election Commission to fix a date for new polls, forcing him to flee
Thai Air Force military (L) face anti-government protesters after they broke into the Royal Thai Air Force base in Bangkok. Hundreds of anti-government protesters broke into the meeting between the election commission and the caretaker government as they discussed for the planned next elections on 15 May 2014, after the results of the 02 February general elections were annulled. According to media reports, Thailand's Election Commission said that the 20 July polling is no longer possible due to political turmoil
Thai anti-government protesters leader Suthep Thaugsuban (C-L) cheers his followers during a street rally march toward Government House and Parliament in Bangkok
An anti-government protester (C) gives instructions to a fellow protester on how to wave a huge Thai flag from atop a barricade near the Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's beleaguered government warned people to stay away from anti-government protests, saying it had to step up security as the two sides in a lengthy political crisis squared off over who is running the country
An anti-government protester looks at a damaged telephone booth after a grenade attack at a protest site outside Government House in Bangkok. Supporters of Thailand's embattled government warned the country's judiciary and Senate against any attempt to install an unelected prime minister, saying it would be a disaster for the nation that could spark civil war
Anti-government protesters making a fist and waving a giant Thai flag, the symbol of the protest, on top of a truck as they rally outside Thai Parliament in a call for the final battle in Bangkok. Protesters marched on many key sites in Bangkok, police fired tear gas and some protesters have been injured. Protest leaders say they are hoping to strike the final blow at the weakened government and usher in a people's council to reform the government
By contrast, those who opposed him were made up of a coalition of upper middle-class Bangkok residents, farmers from the south and powerful figures from the establishment that surrounds Thailand’s royal family. Having seen their efforts to win elections repeatedly defeated by the other side, they pushed for less democracy rather than more.
They denounced the polls as rigged – even though independent observers approved them – and called for appointed councils rather than a parliament. They also mocked many supporters of Mr Thaksin as “buffaloes” and uneducated country hicks, whose votes had been sold.
Many analysts also believe an important factor is a behind-the-scenes power struggle concerning the succession: Thailand’s largely admired but ailing monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is now aged 86.
The army initially said it was stepping in to help stop the violence that the political stand-off sparked. When it seized control of the government, it said it did so reluctantly and because the various factions could not agree to a compromise.
But what has become increasingly clear is that the army’s action has been not that of a neutral broker but rather to side with the anti-government protesters, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
Of the estimated 300 people who have been detained, for up to seven days at a time, many have been those associated with various Thaksin governments, or academics and critics. A handful of PDRC leaders were held, but only briefly.
Perhaps more tellingly, last week Gen Prayuth said there could be no elections for at least 15 months. In the meantime, an appointed cabinet would oversee unspecified reforms to create “an absolute democratic system that is acceptable to all sides”. His language echoed that used by many of the PDRC’s leaders.
But the people who oppose the coup are not going to go away, and neither are the so-called Red Shirts, who have largely supported Mr Thaksin and his sister. They know they have the electoral numbers on their side.
The danger of all this is that while the tourists continue to flock to Thailand’s beaches, things can very quickly get ugly. In 2010, when the Red Shirts were protesting against a non-Thaksin government that included a number of people who later formed the PDRC, more than 90 people were killed. Most were shot by the same troops of the Royal Thai Army that seized power two weeks ago. Nobody has ever been held accountable.Reuse content