Thai Army Stages Coup After Months of Political Unrest

The military says it has to step in to restore order and push through necessary political reforms.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, in a meeting, June 17, 2010
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, in a meeting, June 17, 2010 (Government of Thailand)

Thailand’s army took control of the government in a coup on Thursday, two days after declaring martial law.

In a television statement, the country’s army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said talks between rival political factions to find a solution to six months of deadlock had failed, requiring the military to restore order and push through necessary reforms.

“In order for the situation to return to normal quickly and for society to love and be at peace again … and to reform the structure of the political, economic and social structure, the military needs to take control of power,” he said.

Soldiers ordered cabinet ministers to report to an army base in the north of Bangkok, the capital, by the end of the day and imposed a curfew.

The army’s intervention came two weeks after the country’s supreme court forced Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai party to step down over her dismissal of her national-security chief, who was a supporter of the opposition party, three years ago.

Shinawatra came to power in 2011 after succeeding her brother Thaksin as party leader — who was himself ousted in a coup in 2006 and now lives in Dubai. She continued many of his populist economic programs, including rice subsidies for the rural poor, that gave Pheu Thai strong support in the north.

The urban middle classes and elites in the southern cities, by contrast, resisted the Shinawatras’ economic policies and their lock on power and refused to participate in democratic elections in February which were certain to return to a majority for Pheu Thai.

The political unrest caused Thailand’s gross domestic product to shrink 2.1 percent between January and March and could scare away tourists who account for 6 percent of its economy.

The Thai army has a long history of intervening in politics. There have been eighteen previous successful or attempted coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The only institution that seems able to unite the country is the monarchy. But King Bhumibol Adulyadej has ruled since 1946 and is believed to be ailing. The “yellow shirt” royalists and urban elites suspect that his designated successor, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, sympathizes with the Shinawatras and their “red shirt” supporters.