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THAILAND COUP: Sign of resistance to military rule
Publication Date : 24-05-2014
The around 300 people gathered in downtown Bangkok to protest against Thailand's latest coup d'etat a day after the army seized power was an early sign that the country's new supremo, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, could face growing resistance.
Under martial law, gatherings of more than five are banned; the protesters were facing off with armed troops.
While on the streets the military's touch seemed light, there is no mistaking that dozens of "red shirt" leaders and activists have been arrested since army chief General Prayuth cracked the whip in a meeting room at the Royal Thai Army Club on Thursday.
The best-case scenario, analysts say, would be swift reforms and an election. The worst: lingering army rule and growing pockets of resistance - some of them violent - sucking Thailand into a vortex of instability.
Gen Prayuth has said he wants the bureaucracy to find the money to pay thousands of rice farmers still owed millions from the previous government's failed rice purchase scheme. He was less encouraging about an early election.
"We have to wait... we need to recreate harmony and love in society," he told diplomats at a briefing yesterday, noting that major reforms to the electoral system are needed first.
An election is clearly a low priority, said Associate Professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University's Centre for South East Asian Studies. "History has repeated itself," he said over the phone. "Just like in the 2006 coup d'etat, the target this time was Thaksin. The anti-government protesters again created the situation. I don't believe the military was reluctant to intervene or really interested in being a mediator."
Thaksin Shinawatra, whose sister Yingluck was forced to step down as premier and himself in self-exile abroad to avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power, is seen by Bangkok's old elite and royalist middle class as a corrupt closet Republican out to loot the country.
Yet this coup has taken place in a new era, with tens of millions of Thais on Facebook and Twitter. It is also the first coup that faces an organised movement whose main agenda is opposition to military dictatorship - the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). It is an umbrella group for the "red shirt" movement that emerged after the 2006 coup d'etat toppled Thaksin.
Since then, it has evolved, and reportedly has militant factions which have been targeted by the army in the last 24 hours. At some point, they will resist army rule, Prof Pavin warned. "There could be massive protests which will end in bloodshed," he said.
The army has even threatened to crack down on social media, but will not be able to have full control for long, he said. "I can't imagine one or two years of army rule," he said. "The army may remain in charge but it will not be a stable situation."
Chualongkorn University political scientist Panitan Wattanayagorn said it may not even be necessary to have a prime minister. "One model is for Gen Prayuth to keep power but put the bureaucracy in charge of running the country," he said. A second model could be to go the same route as in 2006, when the regime abolished the Constitution, set up a panel to draft a new one, put it to a referendum, and then held an election, said Dr Panitan. But that still saw years of turmoil that again ended up under the gun.
Most analysts are gloomy. As the Bangkok Post in an editorial yesterday said: "There is no question the political conflicts have become entrenched... Adding another putsch to our lengthy history of coups will only deepen the entanglement."
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