"If you cannot finish your talks, you can't go home,"
May 22, 2014 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Thailand 2014 Coup: Expect for the Worst

After imposing martial law on Tuesday, the Thai military staged a coup on Thursday after 'talks broke down' between pro- and anti-government groups. The constitution has been 'suspended'. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted and ordered to turn herself in, along with 22 associates. The Senate and courts have not been disbanded. Television stations are broadcasting army content and 'traditional music used for junta takeovers'. A curfew has been imposed and gatherings of more than 5 people are banned. Army general General Prayuth Chan-ocha is reportedly governing.

This was (arguably) the 12th coup since 1932, when absolutely monarchy was ended.

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed disappointment and concern and is threatening 'negative implications'. Other countries have also condemned the action.

At this time Bangkok is reported to be calm, although there was what 'may have been the worst traffic and commuter jams in Bangkok history' trying to beat the 10pm curfew. The protesters have been cleared but no violence has been reported. .
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed (50 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The thing about the traditional junta music is not a joke. I remember hearing about it during a previous coup.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:08 PM on May 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

From the time article ('threatening'):
At least $10 million in American funding may be withdrawn under federal laws that prohibit American aid to countries where democratic governments have been overthrown. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki wouldn’t elaborate on why the U.S. government did not rule the Egyptian takeover a coup after weeks of review but could make the Thailand decision within hours of the takeover.
Correct me if I'm wrong - there is a law that says quit giving governments money after a military coup. But we decided the military coup wasn't actually a coup, so we'll keep giving them money. And we are in the process of deciding if we are going to call this military a coup. That law sounds like a good one, one that should be followed.
posted by el io at 8:14 PM on May 22, 2014

I was in Thailand last January and paying very close attention to the awkward political situation. I'm afraid I didn't learn enough to understand the political situation. My main takeaway is as bad as American politics are, I'm grateful that at least we have a basically stable democracy. Also the veneration of the King of Thailand just seemed completely foreign to me, a political situation I couldn't understand. All in all, reinforce the sense of foreignness.

I hope Thailand comes through this latest coup OK. They do have lots of practice. If you want to follow an expat man-on-the-street view, Richard Barrow is an interesting guy on Twitter.
posted by Nelson at 8:16 PM on May 22, 2014

Correct me if I'm wrong - there is a law that says quit giving governments money after a military coup. But we decided the military coup wasn't actually a coup, so we'll keep giving them money. And we are in the process of deciding if we are going to call this military a coup. That law sounds like a good one, one that should be followed.

Well Egypt was being turned into an Islamic theocracy on the back of a pretty dodgy election and control was wrenched back by people who were committed to restoring democracy in a timely manner. Or the more cynical explanation of "like hell we're going to take money away from people who stopped Egypt from becoming the second Iran in the Middle East".
posted by Talez at 8:24 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Egypt has a lot of leverage in its relationship with America. We end up having to do business with whoever is in charge, even when we don't like them.
posted by humanfont at 8:36 PM on May 22, 2014

Richard Barrow also had a map on Google showing the protest sites during the shutdown this past winter that was updated after every bombing/grenade/shooting incident and it was extremely helpful. Most news accounts just give generic "in Bangkok" as a location.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:43 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bangkok's quieter than it normally is right now, though still operating normally, as long as you're not trying to watch television.

Hard to say what's going to happen – the Army doesn't really have a good out here. If they hold elections, the protesters will be unhappy; if they don't hold elections, the red shirts (and most of the rest of the world) will be unhappy. Military rule is a temporary way out of the impasse, but they don't really have a clear way out.

It's curious that the King has not said anything, which is leading to a lot of rumors.

Saksith Saiyasombut (@Saksith) is the best person to go to for political analysis – it helps that he's outside of Thailand and can thus speak more freely. Even when there's not martial law, freedom of speech has never been Thailand's strong suit, which might contribute to the current mess.
posted by with hidden noise at 8:46 PM on May 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

Anecdote: I eat lunch regularly at a Thai restaurant near our office. The owner has had signs up for the last month informing guests that her restaurant would be closed for several weeks in early June while she visited her grandmother and extended family in Thailand. Talking with her about the situation on Tuesday, her biggest concern was that she had $5k tied up in non-refundable plane tickets for her family (plus would lose revenue from temporarily closing her restaurant), and if the martial law (now coup) interfered with her trip, she was going to be out another $1k+ moving those dates around. I naively asked if the tickets were really her biggest concern, and she gave me a hard-but-justified eye roll and informed this dumb white guy that, yes, in fact, those non-refundable tickets were her biggest concern at the moment. Governments come and go, but her grandmother wasn't getting any younger and she had planned this trip back in January.

For her sake I hope the powers-that-be in Thailand can find a workable, non-violent solution to this impasse quickly.
posted by mosk at 8:58 PM on May 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

"What am I listening to? *sniff* Well, it's pretty obscure, you probably haven't heard of it. It's traditional Thai junta takeover music."
posted by codswallop at 10:18 PM on May 22, 2014 [26 favorites]

No seriously, I tried finding traditional Thai junta music and couldn't. Does ANYBODY have a link to traditional Thai junta takeover music?
posted by happyroach at 11:44 PM on May 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'd post a link, but all of my traditional junta music (not just Thai) is on vinyl.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:47 PM on May 22, 2014 [21 favorites]

I would also like to hear the junta music.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:06 AM on May 23, 2014

The junta music bit caught my eye as well. I can just imagine how it goes down at the TV station: "hey Joe (insert the Thai equivalent for Joe here), switch on the junta music again; we're having another coup." You know something is wrong when your coups have their own theme song.
posted by zachlipton at 12:46 AM on May 23, 2014

'traditional music used for junta takeovers' I think could mean that they just play traditional music. Not special "junta takeover tunes". As funny as that would be.

"Do you know you have to be inside by ten or we'll shoot your ass?"

"No, but if you hum a few bars...."
posted by telstar at 1:22 AM on May 23, 2014 [14 favorites]

One interesting thing I heard yesterday was that the response of the markets to the military coup was, er, nothing. No change in Thai stock prices. Money has no love of democracy.
posted by asok at 1:51 AM on May 23, 2014

It has been interesting, for me, to be in a country during a coup. I live in Bangkok now. I was in one of Bangkok's big malls yesterday afternoon, and I happened to check my twitter about 5 minutes before the coup happened, when there was speculation that it might occur. As I sat watching my twitter feed and drinking my iced tea, the coup was officially announced, and then nothing changed. A half hour went by, and people still shopped, ate, drank, laughed. From media coverage of coups that have occurred around the world during my lifetime, I had developed an image of citizens running through the streets, panicked crowds, etc. But it wasn't like that at all. Once the curfew was announced, traffic picked up and there was an excitement in the air as people tried to make it home before transportation shut down. But other than that - relative quiet. Much of the calm is likely due to the fact that Thailand has had many coups, the most recent being in 2006, so everyone pretty much knows the drill - curfew, etc., etc. But I also learned a lesson about my news consumption and the difference between what is covered by the news outlets versus what might be happening to the everyday citizen in that country. Very interesting.
posted by Shebear at 2:36 AM on May 23, 2014 [36 favorites]

Thank you Shebear for that extremely valuable insight.
posted by infini at 3:03 AM on May 23, 2014

What does this mean for someone like myself who is supposed to be traveling to Bangkok in two weeks? I've been watching this situation very nervously.
posted by polywomp at 4:20 AM on May 23, 2014

I studied abroad in Thailand many years ago, and always thought that the generally calm, composed nature of Thai culture was such an odd contrast to the sheer volume of political turmoil it had experienced. I remember the director of our program taking us to a field at Thammasat University in Bangkok, where protesting students and professors had literally been gunned down during democracy movement protests in the 70s.

I'm still friends with the director on Facebook, and he's been sharing a steady stream of articles and opinion pieces about the crisis over the last few years, but I can't even hope to keep up - it's a ridiculously complicated situation.

I have such wonderful memories of the friends I made and the kindness I was shown. Thailand was the country that taught me that I could go out into the world on my own and explore and everything would be ok. I just hope everything turns out ok for Thailand too.
posted by lunasol at 4:45 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am interested that a junta can host its coup d'état page on Facebook without violating TOS.
posted by MattD at 5:08 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

What does this mean for someone like myself who is supposed to be traveling to Bangkok in two weeks?

I think it means you need to follow the news, for the time being.
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:12 AM on May 23, 2014

polywomp: when I was in Bangkok in January when the protests were getting intense, it was very low impact for tourists. There were a few noisy protest camps in Bangkok that it was better to avoid and the constant concern that something might get shut down, but basically it was fine. Thailand is very welcoming to tourists and AFAICT doesn't blame outsiders for political problems (on either side), so no one's going to hassle you.

That being said, transportation might be awkward. Back in 2008 protestors shut down the airports and no one could fly in or out of the country for a week. I think everyone recognized that was a bad idea and in the most recent protests they were explicit they wouldn't shut down the airport. But random highways, or maybe the elevated train, well, who knows?

My understanding of the Thai military is they're the competent organization that gets shit done. It may be that the coup has the effect of stabilizing infrastructure, making things run smoother. OTOH there's certainly a lot of uncertainty and I'd be paying close attention to the news if I were visiting.
posted by Nelson at 6:31 AM on May 23, 2014

The Tourism Authority of Thailand released a notice saying "Military Coup: Transport, Business Still Open."

Reading that kind of made my blood run cold.
posted by graymouser at 6:38 AM on May 23, 2014

Thailand and Turkey are a couple of countries that keep coming up on listicle sites of "Great Cheap places to Expat and retire to".
posted by tilde at 6:39 AM on May 23, 2014

The tradition junta music sounds suspiciously similar to the original cast recording of Chess.
posted by dr_dank at 6:51 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The city don't know what the city is getting.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:11 AM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

My understanding of the Thai military is they're the competent organization that gets shit done.

I grew up next door in Malaysia through the Seventies and some of the Eighties and Thailand was always having military coups it seemed like. I'll try and dig up some cites but from what i recall, the regional news analysis and opinions seemed to feel that it was something that happened every so often by the military whenever the politics of democracy got to be too chaotic and then things would calm down again after a while and get back to normal. The Army is uber loyal to the King and Kingdom.
posted by infini at 7:14 AM on May 23, 2014

And Bingo:
What might appear to be a coup at first glance is instead the King reasserting his power

Thailand’s supreme leaders are its royal family and in particular the King. The King is highly revered in Thailand and insulting him, or even stepping on a coin with his face on it, can result in jail time. In practice, however, the King leaves the running of the country to an elected government. This government runs the day-to-day activities of the country, but is effectively below the King.

The King vests much of his powers in the elected government, but has historically proven to be more powerful than these elected governments. In a sense, Thailand’s elected governments rule at the pleasure of the King.

Most of the King’s powers are enshrined in Thailand’s Constitution, but his real power rests in the fact that the King is the head of the country’s armed forces. Traditionally, Thailand’s military has proven to have unwavering loyalty to the King.
Would a Coup Really be a Coup?

When you mention the word Coup, this tends to refer to a situation when one party, say the military, throws the ruling power out of power. Usually, this refers to a lower ranking power throwing a higher ranking power out of office. A young officer might stage a coup within the ranks of the army and dispose of a general, or a Vice President might seize power from a President.

As mentioned, the King of Thailand has not been challenged in the recent declaration of martial law, nor has the King ever been challenged by his army officials. In this case, the army is instead taking power from another institution of about the same power as itself, and is doing so with the permission of the King.

So instead of being a coup, the recent declaration of martial law appears to be a move by the King and his military officials to assert a more direct control over society. With the stability in Thailand continuing even after the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck, long the target of protestors, it became apparent that the King would need to intervene directly.

posted by infini at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

That actually reads like this situation is the exercise of an established hereditary right of no-confidence declaration.

Which, fucking hell, actually sounds like something the United States could seriously benefit from at this point.
posted by Ryvar at 7:38 AM on May 23, 2014

What might appear to be a coup at first glance is instead the King reasserting his power

Sadly, that article only skims the surface.

In Thai politics there are wheels within wheels, with the king at the hub. But the hub is not in good health: King Bhumibol Adulyadeis is 87 and has been in poor health for a good few years. As he has advanced in age and deteriorated physically and mentally, a low-level struggle has developed within the royal family as to who shall succeed him: Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn or Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

To complicate matters further, it is believed the princess (a) has a mind of her own and (b) is a Thaksin supporter, whilst the crown prince is (a) pliable and has (b) become a figurehead for the anti-Thaksin crowd in royal circles. Naturally, both the princess and prince have their own coteries of supporters... supporters who know that backing the eventual winner will mean even more power for them as well as opportunities to increase their own wealth.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:24 AM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

The whole arrangement with the King of Thailand is really strange. I'd love to read a MeFi post about the institution.
posted by Nelson at 8:30 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

In the absence of a MeFi post about the Thai royal family and its role in Thai politics...

I can thoroughly recommend the 2013 Thai documentary Paradoxocracy. I don't know if it is generally available, but I do know you can easily find and download if you search in the right places.

For details about the doc... please go here.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:43 AM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd love to read a MeFi post about the institution.

And as long as you don't criticise the king, you can read it in Thailand, legally.

Also the veneration of the King of Thailand just seemed completely foreign to me,

I think, and I could be wrong, because I read and eat Thai food but have never been to Thailand (or had a discussion with a Thai person not about food) that the King is an idealised circuit-breaker a bit about how we in the Commonwealth think of the Monarch of the United Kingdom, even if we are republicans. You want to believe that there is someone above politics, divine right or not.

A week ago, before this happened, I heard a radio spot about the "civil war" in Thailand's south, and after the army marched out I heard a bit more about the red/yellow divide than I'd heard in a while, but it seems as if Thailand's issues are so deeply entrenched after a decade or so that something needs to happen, if not to tale the lid off the pressure cooker.
posted by Mezentian at 8:46 AM on May 23, 2014

There are a couple of interesting pieces out there on the succession aspect being one of the issues as well as teh royal fortune. The leader of the coup is also believed to be personally loyal to the Queen. Sounds like you're spot on,mister bijou, there's more here than meets the eye
posted by infini at 8:54 AM on May 23, 2014

there's more here than meets the eye

So, Michael Bay is to blame? Makes sense...

But seriously, I am shocked that the last coup was in 2006. Maybe it's because of the Red/Yellow shirt shuffle, but I thought it was more recent.

In many respects, the Thai army looks positively restrained.
posted by Mezentian at 9:02 AM on May 23, 2014

My knowledge of Thai politics is pretty rusty, but I was working there for a while during when Thaksin was first elected, and then his subsequent ousting (I still occasionally wake up in cold sweats, remembering the constantly blaring Thai Rak Thai theme music).

But to add another wrinkle into the talk of the King's succession, my understanding (though it could be very wrong, I'm well out of the loop here) is that the Crown Prince is widely and very quietly disliked. I've also heard stories that he has substantial gambling debts to organized crime. The eldest daughter was removed from the line of succession for marrying a westerner. The king himself also came to power under slightly bizarre circumstances, with his brother dying of a mysterious gunshot that was never fully explained.

Someone also once told me that the Thai royal family has a magic mirror that they gaze on once a year, and helps them remain youthful.
posted by themadthinker at 9:40 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The eldest daughter was removed from the line of succession for marrying a westerner.

That she was in the line of succession: progressive.
posted by Mezentian at 9:53 AM on May 23, 2014

What does this mean for someone like myself who is supposed to be traveling to Bangkok in two weeks?

Keep an eye on the Thai Visa forum. Last I saw, foreigners were being denied entry at the airports.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:55 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The UK's Daily Torygraph has just put this story up. The fact the heir apparent Prince Vajiralongkorn is now in UK may have nothing to do with events currently unfolding in Thailand. I'm not sure why the editor has run with "refuge"...

However, it does include titbits including the lavish party he threw in 2009 for his miniature poodle Foo Foo (his wife Princess Srirasmi also reportedly wore little more than a G-string)... Crown Prince of Thailand takes refuge in five-star Hampshire hotel
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:06 AM on May 23, 2014

From a member who prefers to remain anonymous:
OK, I'm not sure where to begin. I'm RTFAs and they sure are painting a scary picture. I know that stability and civilization are largely a collective illusion, which is a thought that's keeping me on my toes. But I guess all I can talk about is my day today. (I'm too tired to talk all about the last three days.)

This morning, I heard this song played on television. I can tell you the literal meaning of the song's title, หนักแผ่นดิน which is "heavy land," but it doesn't convey the meaning which is about people who are burdensome to the land, to the... nation? I'm not a reliable translator at all. This morning I was in the Lom Sak area of Phetchabun province, veritable "Red shirt" territory. I was there from since 11pm Tuesday night until today. I went to get documents done there because that's where I have family.

I'm pretty sure I heard that same song on Thursday night. Anyway, this morning I went to get my picture taken for my driver's license. If you've been to Thailand or heard about how scary the driving in Bangkok is, they're all correct. (cue sad laughter) We drove by many roadblocks along the HWY 21, of which most of them were bored looking soldiers standing in the heat with bags and bags of fruit on their tables that were beneath outdoor canopies. I drove through the worst traffic at the Wang Noi roadblock. After that, it was relatively quick to get back into Bangkok. (Then again, we weren't headed into the heart of Bangkok like Lumpini park or something.) It was a normal day, apart from the morning confusion about school, whether or not it was still happening. (It wasn't. There were some grumbles about how shutting down school on a nationwide scale was unnecessary, as Bangkok is the only place where it is difficult for students to get to and from school due to the many roadblocks.) The kid who would've normally been in school went with us this morning to talk to the local electricity company about a transformer required to get air conditioning in their home, or something.

When I got back I found that my Thai passport had arrived in the mail, yesterday. I'm planning to see an old college friend tomorrow, and maybe I'll be able to take a photo with a soldier at the roadblock that's literally down the block from here. We're going to try for an early start so we won't get tangled in the curfew. And even though I've got papers in Thailand, can even stumble along with singing the national anthem, I can't tell you more about the political situation here because I'm an American. I can, however, link you to the words of an actual Thai person (as linked to me by actual Thai people that have told me their perspective of the situation), Somkiat Onwimon. "Dear John Kerry; Dear BBC and CNN:...:" via twitter. If there were news articles that I could link, even if in Thai, by journalists about the murders that have taken place across the country as acts of political intimidation, along with vote buying, and the weapons found in massive quantities secretly being controlled and funneled by 'questionable' persons, the unpaid rural rice farmers, the difference between the Thai police and Thai military and their allegiances, about how the protest links to the weird land dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, and the unrest of South, well, I would do it. But maybe once my Thai is better. And even then, I can only speak for myself, naturally. For another English source of happenings is Michael Yon. I asked for English language sources that are not old men, but haven't been able to find any yet. As you can probably tell now, I am not impartial nor objective about this conflict. Most importantly, I have no solution and won't ever have one.

From what I gather through conversation, the Thai military that committed the Thammasat massacre and the military today are extremely different. For a bonus song to listen is สู้ไม่ถอย, which the clip has both Thai karaoke and footage from the massacre. The title roughly translates to "fight without retreat."

I didn't anticipate ever having to reveal this much about myself on Metafilter but if anything helps give a clearer understanding or at the very least more perspective I am willing to try and help. I'm going to be flying out again very soon and anticipate little trouble if any going to and from the airport. I'm waiting for mail from the USPS, a document sent via express that should definitely arrive. I could be wrong!

P.S. It would be easy for me to sum up the passing of the last three days: business as usual.

P.P.S. Now that I see y'all talking about the King, I'm really hoping Metafilter doesn't get blocked in Thailand. (I WILL BE SO SAD.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:14 AM on May 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

To be fair: It is the Telegraph.
And, just to be safe, wouldn't you rather be in "exile"?
posted by Mezentian at 10:16 AM on May 23, 2014

9 questions about Thailand you were too embarrassed to ask - good article in spite of Vox's insistence on inane linkbaity headlines and structures

Two good links out of that article: Can Thailand Break Its Coup Addiction? and THE ANTIDEMOCRATIC ROOTS OF THE THAI PROTESTERS (both from Dec 2013).
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:16 AM on May 23, 2014

One coup in Bangkok makes the government tumble
Can't be too careful with your company
I can feel the junta walking next to me
posted by Renoroc at 11:07 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Too soon!
posted by Mezentian at 11:17 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well Egypt was being turned into an Islamic theocracy on the back of a pretty dodgy election and control was wrenched back by people who were committed to restoring democracy in a timely manner.

uhh, yeah... but you know what else happened after the ousting, right? A mass execution sentencing, 528 sentenced to death allegedly for some vandalism and the death of one police officer: http://www.juancole.com/2014/03/shocks-execution-brothers.html

The article above makes an important comparison:
Among Middle Eastern countries, the most execution happy is Iran, with over 300 a year. With just one trial, Egypt has made itself more Draconian than Iran.

So, I guess I'm saying several things are still quite dodgy.
posted by cbecker333 at 11:22 PM on June 3, 2014

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