Thai army general Prayut Chanocha declared martial law on May 20 without consulting the caretaker government or any other elected representatives. Soldiers took over all radio and TV stations and are positioned along major road intersections in Bangkok.
Despite the fact that Prayut claimed that “this is not a coup”, his actions smell, taste and look like a coup. This is from a man who has blood on his hands.
Four years ago to the day, Prayut oversaw the gunning down in of almost 90 Red Shirt pro-democracy demonstrators on the streets of Bangkok. Before the elections in 2011, he made public statements against the Pua Thai party.
Prayut was key figure in manoeuvring the right-wing, ironically named Democrat Party into an unelected government in 2008. He has never been brought to court for his crimes and was on the list of those who would be given total amnesty in the abortive amnesty bill put forward by former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Eleced in 2011, Yingluck was removed from office by a Constitutional Court ruling on May 7.
The military say the declaration of martial law is just to maintain peace and security; if so, it is too little too late.
If the military were really concerned with keeping the peace, they would have acted against violent Democrat Party mobs when they invaded government ministries to overthrow the elected government at the end of last year. They would have arrested the leaders of the armed thugs who used violence on the streets to wreck the February election.
But the military are just team players on the side of those who want to destroy Thailand’s democratic space. They have sat on their hands and watched with glee as the Yingluck government was gradually destroyed and the elections wrecked.
Now they estimate that their allies among the Democrat Party mob and the kangaroo courts have created enough chaos to legitimise military intervention.
Make no mistake, this military “non-coup” will not ensure that free and fair elections take place and it certainly won’t protect freedom of expression. The “non-coup” will instead smooth the way for an unelected “temporary” prime minister.
It will smooth the way to fixing the democratic process so that unelected powers can control any future elected government. It is part of the process of cutting democratic space.
Democracy can only be built if significant numbers of Red Shirts realise that Pua Thai and the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) leaders are unwilling and unable to lead a fight.
The building of an independent pro-democracy movement based on the Red Shirts with clear links to the progressive working class and peasantry is long over-due. Such a movement cannot be built over night but it can and must be built.
[Reprinted from Red Thai Socialist. Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a political commentator and dissident. In February 2009, he left Thailand for exile in Britain after being charged with lese majeste (“insulting the monarch”) for writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. He is a member of the socialist group Left Turn Thailand.]