Sunday, May 25, 2014

Thailand Situation Updates May 25 , 2014 -- Protesters defy Thai military rulers' warning Supporters of ousted government told not to stage anti-coup rallies as military holds meetings with business leaders ( h/t Al Jazeera ) ......... The New Face Of Thailand - An Infographic ( h/t - zero hedge ) ...... Thai coup leader tightens grip ( h/t - Asia times )

Protesters defy Thai military rulers' warning

Supporters of ousted government told not to stage anti-coup rallies as military holds meetings with business leaders.

Last updated: 25 May 2014 08:25
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Protests mainly prompted by social media are occurring in Thailand's capital Bangkok despite warnings by the country's new military rulers.
The generals overthrew the government on Thursday after months of confrontation between the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the royalist establishment.
Al Jazeera's Robert Kennedy, reporting from Bangkok, said several hundred protesters gathered in front of a McDonald's fast-food restaurant in the city's central business district, where soldiers with riot shields met them.
Chants of "Aok bai!" (Go away) rang out loudly through the cheering and jeering crowd, as soldiers sternly looked on.
Pushing and shoving broke out but there was no serious violence, Kennedy said.
"I think this coup is so bad," said a woman who asked to be identified only as Urai to protect herself. "The government was good and Red Shirts are good. These soldiers are bad."
At the same time on Sunday, the military began meetings with the leaders of state and private commercial organisations, senior officials of the commerce, finance ministries and business leaders.
Officials from the Energy Ministry, oil trade and transport companies were due to meet military officers later in the day.
The army has also asked 18 newspaper bosses to a meeting on Sunday, presumably to receive directions on supportive coverage.
"From now on, the army will focus on solving the country's problems," a senior military official said on Saturday.
"The army would like to be in power for the shortest period they can. They want to make sure the country is really getting back to normal without any resistance."
Army's warning
Power now lies squarely in the hands of army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his military government known as the National Council for Peace and Order, and their priorities appeared to be stamping out dissent and tending to the economy.
"We would like to ask all people to avoid gathering to stage protests because it's not a usual situation for the democratic process," Winthai Suvaree, the deputy army spokesman, said in a televised statement.
"For those who use social media to provoke, please stop because it's not good for anyone. For media, they should be careful about speaking, criticising or doing anything that causes damage to any party, especially civilian, police and military officials."
Critics say the coup will not end the conflict between the rival power networks: the Bangkok-based elite dominated by the military, old money families and the bureaucracy, and an upstart clique led by Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother and former telecommunications tycoon.
The Shinawatras draw much of their influence from the provinces.
The military has detained leaders of the ousted government including Yingluck and an unknown number of her ministers, party officials, and supporters.
It has thrown out the constitution, censored the media and on Saturday it dismissed the upper house Senate, Thailand's last functioning legislature, in what amounts to a clean sweep of the political landscape.
Politicians detained
Less than 72 hours after the coup, the military has already met political, media, academic and civil service groups.
Many of the politicians have been detained while others such as civil servants have been exhorted to work for the country.
The military, which has launched 19 successful or attempted coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, has banned gatherings of more than five people and imposed a 10pm to 5am curfew.
That has not deterred some critics.
About 200 people marched in Bangkok on Saturday, many with handwritten signs such as "Anti the Coup" and "Get out Dictators".
There was some scuffles with police and several people were detained but no serious violence.
Such small protests appear spontaneous and leaderless but the real danger for the military would be a sustained mass campaign by Thaksin's "red shirt" loyalists.
Protesters said they were organising on social media and were keeping gatherings small in the hope that they would avoid provoking a military response from the army.
Opposition stronghold
About 200 people gathered on Saturday in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thaksin's hometown, and soldiers detained at least six people, a Reuters reporter said.
At a meeting in Chiang Mai, the army ordered police and officials to squash anti-army dissent or face transfer.
The call reflects the army's unease about control of the north and northeast, hotbeds of support for the Shinawatras.
Six months of anti-government protests that finally led to the coup, the latest outbreak of a nearly decade-long clash between the establishment and Thaksin, have hurt Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.
In the first quarter of the year, the economy shrank 2.1 percent and there is little prospect of improvement.
Thais are not spending, and consumer sentiment fell to a 12-year low in the months before the coup.
Many countries have issued travel warnings for Thailand, which was already expecting the lowest number of foreign visitors in five years in 2014. Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of the economy.
Al Jazeera and agencies

The New Face Of Thailand - An Infographic

Tyler Durden's picture

Thailand’s twelfth coup since 1932 reveals both the sorry state of its democracy and the erosion of the monarchy. But as political tensions in Thailand have escalated, raising fears that the country could return to the unrest that followed the ouster in 2006 of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, we thought it useful to note the key Thai political figuresfacing yet another crisis. As The Diplomat's Serhat Unaldi notes, "If Thailand negotiates successfully, if the country avoids further bloodshed, it will soon be back on track for a positive transformation. If it fails, the consequences will be disastrous."

Thailand: A Coup, the Crown, and Two Middle Classes
“I have decided to seize power,” Thailand’s army chief said on May 22, slamming his hand on the negotiation table where he had gathered the country’s rival political factions. The army commander was simply fed up.
The evolution of a functioning democracy has been put on hold in Thailand back in 2006, when the military staged a coup against the popular but controversial prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Bertelsmann Transformation Index, whichreports that post-coup leaders have been “unable to place authentic national reconciliation above partisan bickering,” has continuously ranked Thailand in the gray zone between highly defective democracy and moderate autocracy ever since. Supporters of the electoral democracy that had brought Thaksin to power were pitted against royalists who called on traditional elites to curb the influence of the exiled former prime minister.
Alongside a fight between leaders who were positioning themselves ahead of the upcoming royal succession, this was a battle between Thailand’s middle classes. An emerging middle class with ties to the provinces and which owed its rise to Thaksin’s mildly redistributive policies and increased market access clashed with members of an established Bangkok-based middle class that had gained prestige and wealth from its association with the monarchy and decades of royalist-driven capitalist development in the capital city.
Gradually all state institutions were drawn into the political conflict and became partisan players. The judiciary in particular took the side of Thaksin’s foes and played an active role in removing governments close to him from office. One-sided legal meddling in politics led to accusations of “double standards” and a loss of trust in the rule of law among Thaksin’s supporters. However, the “judicialization” of Thailand, which recently resulted in the removal of Thaksin’s sister from the post of prime minister following a ruling by the Constitutional Court, did nothing to solve the stalemate.
In this broader context the latest intervention by the army appears as just another indicator of how defective Thai democracy has become. Yet, by declaring martial law throughout the country and then staging a full-blown coup, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha not only put democracy and civil liberties on hold, he also seized the power of the king. If applied to the entire kingdom, martial law can only be promulgated by Royal Proclamation. General Prayuth’s actions therefore reveal that it is not just Thai democracy that has come under pressure. With the slow departure of the ailing King Bhumibol from the political scene, the Crown has been put on the negotiating table.
Whereas the coup-makers in 2006 had the king’s backing, the soldiers behind the most recent military intervention did not seek royal legitimation of their actions. In fact, by sidelining the caretaker government of the Thaksin-affiliated Phuea Thai party, General Prayuth might even have antagonized an important member of the royal family: Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is known to be close to Thaksin. Interestingly, the prince has recently been given the command of a strategically important infantry regiment. He also holds a seat on the defense council. For that reason, it is likely that frictions within the military and between rival factions in the palace will come to the fore in the coming weeks.
If the coup results in the military’s unilateral appointment of a new prime minister who is unacceptable to the Thaksin side a further escalation is bound to occur. Yet such bleak predictions belie the potential for progressive change that lies at the heart of all crises. Rather than seeing Thailand’s troubles as a decline one might equally interpret them as a negotiation of a new social contract ahead of a sea change in the structure of the Thai state.
As King Bhumibol’s health fades, his charismatic leadership will soon no longer be a source of legitimacy for those who have prospered under his reign. The fear of losing hard-won privileges to the rural masses is a very real one for the royalist elites, sections of the military and many middle-class Bangkokians. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who has a controversial past, is unlikely to gain the respect his father could take for granted. The monarchy will be unable to provide legitimacy for an unequal capitalist development that merely trickles down to rural Thais but does not have their interests at its heart. Changes in people’s aspirations and a distinct “Thai spirit of capitalism” have already prompted a gradual reorientation away from the religious values that underpinned Bhumibol’s reign. Thailand is in an unenviable position having to cope with such tectonic shifts. But such is the nature of regimes that depend on one man. Once a monarch dies, the future is up for grabs.
And so Thailand is negotiating. True, the process does not look pretty and widespread bloodshed is a real possibility, but so too is compromise, even if mediated by the military. On Wednesday and under the watch of General Prayuth, the opposing sides met for a first round of talks. Even though the coup that followed the second round yesterday must be deplored and is likely to make matters worse in the short term, it is to be hoped that Thailand recognizes eventually that, with the loss of royal legitimacy, it can only be democracy and a free and fair market economy that can provide the basis of a prosperous future.
Conservatives must acknowledge the legitimate aspirations for social mobility of the emerging middle classes and the poor in the provinces and at Bangkok’s margins. The opposite camp needs to understand the fear among the old middle class, traditional elites and other Thaksin haters of losing their political voice in a system dominated by the demands of the majority. Thaksin’s repressive tendencies were proof enough that a leader who has the backing of the bulk of the people is tempted to subvert the liberties of minorities.
If Thailand negotiates successfully, if the country avoids further bloodshed, it will soon be back on track for a positive transformation. If it fails, the consequences will be disastrous.

Thai coup leader tightens grip
By Shawn W Crispin 

BANGKOK - Thailand's new self-appointed premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha consolidated his grip on power following Thursday's coup by summoning deposed former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and many of her leading supporters to the new ruling National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC) junta's base in Bangkok. 

Most of the at least 150 politicians, protest leaders and former security officials told to report to the military are aligned to her self-exiled brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. 

Army commander Prayuth and the country's powerful military


overthrew the elected caretaker administration of Prime Minister Niwattamrong Boonsongpaisan, who had succeeded Yingluck earlier this month, two days after invoking martial law. The brazen move will have wide-ranging implications for national stability and the future of democracy. As coup-makers consolidated their rights-curbing control on Friday, analysts and observers are weighing the potential for a backlash response. 

While Prayuth insisted previously that a putsch would not resolve the long-running political crisis pitting supporters and detractors of former premier Thaksin, his heavy-handed intervention will likely bear out that prediction and accentuate already deep-seated divisions in Thai society. 

Prayuth staged his coup at around 4:30 pm on Thursday after a meeting he called of opposed political groups, including leaders of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and pro-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest groups and their respective affiliated Democrat and Peua Thai political parties, failed to reach an agreement on the creation of a neutral interim government. 

When acting Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri refused Prayuth's point blank request to dissolve the caretaker government and allow for the appointment of a neutral government, the army chief announced in response that he would seize power, according to local reports. Both sides' attending leaders were detained, transferred and held incommunicado at Bangkok's King's Guard First Infantry Division. It was unclear how many of them were still in detention when Asia Times Online went to press. 

While Tuesday's invocation of martial law was widely viewed as a de facto coup, it wasn't altogether clear that the deployment of troops, censorship of media and containment of PDRC and UDD protest sites situated in the national capital were the advance maneuvers of a full-blown military takeover. Prayuth failed to consult Niwattamrong, Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimaprakorn and Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Prachin Chantong before invoking martial law but didn't immediately topple the caretaker government. 

It seems clear now, however, that Prayuth's call for negotiations on Wednesday and Thursday were a well-laid trap to apprehend elusive political actors and pave the way for the easy dismantlement of their leaderless protest sites by armed troops. Foreign mediators familiar with the situation said the army leader was briefed before the two meetings on how to handle such a complex multi-actor negotiation. The precision implementation of yesterday's coup, however, indicates it was planned well in advance of the broken meeting. 

Many political analysts felt earlier that Prayuth and his royal-establishment backers including in the bureaucracy and courts would opt instead to oust Niwattamrong's caretaker government through more internationally palatable legal means, similar to the abuse of power charges that led to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's court-ordered ouster on May 7. Conservative senators announced after Tuesday's invocation of martial law that they were readying a new legal case aimed at toppling her remaining caretaker Cabinet ministers. 

A known staunch royalist, Prayuth served previously in the elite 21st Infantry Division, also known as the Queen's Guard. He maintains close ties with retired senior members of the elite unit, including former Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and former army commander General Anupong Paochinda, two soldiers who maintain influence in royalist quarters. 

Some analysts believe Prawit is the frontrunner to become prime minister in a junta-appointed government; if the Senate is tasked with the appointment the conservative-leaning body is expected to favor a "technocratic" line-up, potentially led by former Foreign and Finance Minister Surakiart Sathirathai. Any appointment will require the endorsement of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, who had not yet received coup-maker Prayuth as of late Friday afternoon. 

Hard, not soft
Compared to General Sonthi Boonyaratklin's 2006 military coup, characterized as "smooth as silk" by some commentators for its soft measures in ousting Thaksin's elected caretaker government, Prayuth's putsch has packed a comparative punch through stronger troop mobilizations and curfews. In the 2006 coup, only five of Thaksin's top allies and advisers were taken into military custody for interrogations. (Thaksin was at the time in New York for a United Nations meeting.) That led to criticism in certain hard-line military quarters, led most vocally by former spy chief and foreign minister Squadron Leader Prasong Soonsiri, that harder measures were required to uproot Thaksin's influence. 

Prayuth, in comparison, summoned more than150 key players in Thailand's political impasse, mostly known to be aligned with Thaksin, to report to the new ruling National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC) junta's First Infantry Division base. Many of the former army and police officials on the list are believed by certain security analysts and diplomats to have played a behind-the-scenes role in organizing and arming the UDD's militant wing that clashed fatally with troops under Prayuth's command on Bangkok's streets in April and May 2010. Most were banned from traveling outside of the country by the NPOMC earlier today. 

With that signal sent to potential provocateurs, Prayuth and his junta co-leaders have apparently calculated that Thaksin and the UDD lack the capacity and will to mount a significantly destabilizing response to their putsch. That strategic assessment no doubt draws on recent tepid UDD mobilizations, some organized around the theme of protecting electoral democracy from the PDRC's often anti-democratic agenda, and others against perceived as biased independent agencies and courts that earlier threatened and eventually knocked Yingluck from power. 

They will also have been emboldened by indications that recent Thaksin-influenced policies, including his push last October for amnesty legislation that would have absolved him of a criminal corruption conviction, but also freed Prayuth and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of liability for their roles in the 2010 crackdown on UDD protestors, have fragmented and diluted support for the so-called "Red Shirt" movement. 

Yingluck's boondoggle rice price-support scheme, a populist measure that won her party votes at the 2011 polls, is now believed to have eroded grassroots support for both the UDD and Peua Thai party among a large number of indebted and unpaid farmers. The UDD's protest on the outskirts of Bangkok was suppressed with little resistance on Thursday; PDRC protestors voluntarily packed up their rolling six-month anti-government protest while greeting the coup as an anti-Thaksin victory. 

Thaksin and his UDD supporters will be keen to show earlier rather than later that Prayuth's coup-makers have badly miscalculated their strength and numbers. How Thaksin's camp calibrates its mix of diplomacy and violence will be pivotal to future stability and level of military repression. With the military's martial law grip on Bangkok, any insurgent-type response is more likely to arise from less militarized areas in Thaksin's stronghold northern and northeastern provinces, similar perhaps to the hit-and-run style attacks employed by Muslim insurgents against government targets in the country's three southernmost provinces. 

Some analysts interpreted the shadowy assaults on the PDRC as veiled warnings of a possible insurgent response to Yingluck's and now Niwattumrong's extra-constitutional ouster. The same analysts speculate that the military has attempted to pre-empt that threat by identifying and targeting known UDD hardliners; others interpreted last month's assassination of pro-UDD poet Mai Neung as a message that any UDD violence will beget similar violence. The military has made a public show of its apparent improved intelligence compared to 2010 by capturing military-grade arms allegedly linked to the UDD after invoking martial law. UDD leader Weng Tojirakarn denied any association with the seized weapons. 

Thaksin's stronger hand will be played with the international community, where he already has cultivated several sympathetic audiences. Western countries, including the United States, have publicly voiced their displeasure with Prayuth's extra-legal coup and indicated punitive sanctions are forthcoming. Meanwhile, market reaction has been muted, with the SET index of Thai stocks closing down 0.66% on Friday and the baht also was little changed. 

One foreign diplomat familiar with Thaksin's recent thinking believes he will aim to exploit Prayuth's overreach and lobby to win Western support for the creation of a government-in-exile, situated perhaps in neighboring Cambodia, where several UDD leaders took refuge after the 2010 military clampdown. Analysts believe that is in part why the junta today imposed restrictions on the movements of Thaksin's political allies and aligned politicians. 

Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor.