”I’m sorry, but I have to seize power.”
These were the words spoken by army chief General Prayuth Chan-Ocha on May 22, 2014 before he left the conference room at around 5pm, leaving a good amount of people stunned and moments later detained by military police. Among them were representatives of the ruling Pheu Thai government - or rather what was left of it after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted shortly before - and the leaders of the anti-government protests.
Both sides were brought to the table with the military styling itself as an intermediary, after it had declared martial law two days earlier. It was the climax of a political protest campaign against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra that lasted for over half a year. What was initially a rally against an overzealous blanket amnesty bill (which was so broad it even managed to upset their own red shirts supporter base) by the opposition Democrat Party led by veteran political brawler Suthep Thuagsuban morphed into an all-out destructive movement solely aimed at toppling a democratically elected government.
The occupation of public roads, sieges of government buildings and the successful sabotaging of the February 2 snap-elections brought parts of the capital Bangkok and Thailand’s entire political discourse to a standstill. At least 28 people, both protesters and security forces, were killed in numerous violent clashes during the protests.
Thailand’s 12th successful military coup quickly made clear that this hostile takeover of power was going to be a quite different one than the previous coup in 2006. Because unlike last time, where the rule was quickly returned to a quasi-civilian government, the establishment of an ersatz-rubber stamping parliament called the ”National Legislative Assembly” dominated by military officers, a highly partisan ”National Reform Council” and a rather exclusive ”Constitutional Drafting Committee” shows that the 2014 version is set to fundamentally change Thailand’s political discourse - and there’s still no end in sight and no clear sign what the end result will look like.
The military rulers, with recently retired army chief Gen Prayuth carrying on as junta leader and prime minister, are also making sure that this process remains unhindered. Hundreds of people, among them politicians, activists, academics and journalists have been summoned by the junta - some of them detained, some others charged. The press and social media are under heavy censorship and surveillance. Dissidents are being silenced, while the coup supporters are celebrating silently.
It has been roughly a year since the anti-government protests that have paved the way for the coup begun, and it has been 6 months since the military coup itself. It is time to take a look back in order to understand what’s next for Thailand.
This week the Siam Voices team will analyze and comment on the developments after 6 months in post-coup Thailand, and what they mean for politics, economy and society in the Southeast Asian nation.
The 28 Weeks Later series – Thailand 6 months after the coup:
Introduction: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand Part 1: Economic stability comes at a cost under Thailand’s military junta Part 2: Prayuth, censorship and the media in post-coup Thailand Part 3: An education fit for a zombie? Part 4: Are Thai people really happy after the coup? Part 5: Thailand’s junta and the war on corruption Part 6: PDRC myths and Thailand's privileged 'new generation' Part 7: Thailand tourism down, but not out Part 8: Education reform in Thailand under the junta Part 9: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand: Some personal thoughts