On 22 May, Thailand’s military declared martial law. On 24 May, they took power in a coup.
They have suspended the constitution, banned demonstrations and detained politicians including Yingluck Shinawatra who, until very recently, was prime minister. The head of the military, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has appointed himself the new prime minister.
The coup follows a court ruling early this month removing Shinawatra from her position as prime minister on the grounds that she had acted illegally by moving her national security chief to another position.
For many months now Thailand’s two main political parties have been at war.
There have been anti-government protests and counter-protests. The anti-government force — the bulk of whom are Democratic Party supporters, also know as “yellow shirts” — said the government was corrupt. They represent a section of the Thai bourgeoisie, with backers in the military, and their goal has been for the military to “step into” a situation of political chaos.
An election called in February this year was never completed because contests where voting had been disrupted had to be restaged.
The coup is somewhat of a re-run of 2006, when the army acted to replace the previous administration of Thaksin Shinawatra. Yingluck Shinawatra is Thaksin’s sister, and her party, the Pheu Thai Party, is seen as a successor to her brother’s Thai Rack Thai party. Pro-government supporters are known as “red shirts”. They have a support base among the mostly rural poor, but also represent bourgeois interests.
The bourgeois forces behind the “yellow shirts” wanted to stop the possibility of Thaksin Shinawatra returning to Thailand and his supporters in rural and Northern Thailand gaining the upper hand. They also oppose policies that have brought in greater access to healthcare for the rural poor and have improved the living standards for many of Thailand’s poorest. Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001.
The military could meet opposition from the “red shirts”. There could even be civil war. The immediate crackdown looks severe, with arrests of political leaders, a curfew, and a media black out. Political meetings have been banned, social media have been restricted, and journalists have been banned from interviewing academics with a critical stance towards the government.
The army’s promises to implement political reforms are false. Even if they were not, such reforms would be undertaken in the worst of circumstances.