Should Thai military’s order for martial law be considered a ‘coup d’etat’?

BY Ellen Rolfes  May 20, 2014 at 11:15 AM EDT
A Thai army soldier stands guard outside the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images

A Thai army soldier stands guard outside the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images

After six months of anti-government protests in Thailand, the dismissal of the prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine cabinet members from office, plus repeated warnings from Thailand’s army chief, the Thai military declared martial law Tuesday.

An aide to the ousted prime minister told CNN that the government had no knowledge of the military’s plan and described the actions as “half a coup d’etat.” Her supporters, known as “red shirts,” have threatened civil war if power is transferred to an unelected leader.

Since 1932, the Thai military has overthrown the government 11 times, and unsuccessfully attempted to do so another seven times. The country has experienced more military coups than any other country in modern history.

Military officials deny their actions should be categorized a coup. They say that the caretaker government remains in control and their actions only relate to security. But Mark Thompson, director of Southeast Asia research at City University of Hong Kong told Voice of America that this matter is one of semantics.

The last time the military stepped in in 2006, it didn’t work,” Thompson said. “The military is afraid that if they call it a coup and actually remove the caretaker government officially … that will provoke the Red Shirts and could lead the country closer to civil war.”

General Prayuth Chan-Ocha said on television that the move is intended to “bring back peace and order.”

“We therefore ask every side and every group to stop their movement, in order to quickly enter the process and sustainably solve the country’s problem,” Prayuth said. “We are asking the general public not to panic and still carry on their duties and work normally.”

Prayuth now heads a newly establish task force, the Peace Keeping Command Center, which Prayuth says will start a dialogue between all political parties in order to end violence. The military has also ordered all radio and television stations to suspend their normal programming, as needed, in order to preserve national security.

Suthep Thaugsuban, an anti-government leader, says protesters will not be stopped by martial law. “Martial law does not affect our civil uprising,” Suthep said in a speech to supporters, according to Reuters. “We still retain our right to demonstrate against this tyrannical government.”

Military officials say that martial law will be enforced until peace is restored.

The AFP reports that caretaker Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan called for elections on Aug. 3 as well as additional reforms in the interim, in hopes that fresh polls will end political conflicts.