At 10:30 pm local time Tuesday evening, Tawn received a call from one of his customers telling him that they had just heard there is a coup d’etat occurring. There have been rumours going around for many months about the possibility of this, and it appears to have happened.
Turning on the television, every channel is playing a simulcasted generic montage of photos of the king, royalty, monks, and generally happy people. Various patriotic songs are being played.
From the BBC website at 10:39 pm (Tuesday evening local time)
Thailand calls state of emergency –
Soldiers have entered Government House and tanks have moved into position around the building.
Mr Thaksin, who is at the UN in New York, announced he had removed the chief of the army and had ordered troops not to “move illegally”.
An army-owned TV station is showing images of the royal family and songs linked in the past with military coups.
Correspondents say that there have been low-level rumours of a possible coup for weeks.
Thai media say that two army factions appear to be heading for a clash, with one side backing the prime minister and the other side backing a rebel army chief.
Our correspondent Jonathan Head said it was not clear which faction had taken the initiative.
He said there has been pressure growing on the prime minister to resign, following a political impasse in which April’s general election was declared invalid.
But it was thought that Thailand was making progress towards holding another election later in the year, our correspondent says.
On the TV screens a message now reads (translated from Thai by Tawn)
“The Committee of Politcal Reformation Under Democracy, which believes in the Monarchy and includes the heads of the military including Air Force, Navy and Army, and the National Police, are taking control of the situation in Khrungthep and surrounding areas. There has been no resistence. In order to keep the country in peace we would like to ask your cooperation. We apoligize for any inconvenience.”
There is now a gentleman appearing on TV in a suit and tie (yellow Thai and is wearing a royal crest on his lapel – in show of support of the monarcy). Unclear who he is as he didn’t identify himself. He repeated the same message that was previously listed above.
Reports from BBC, Germany and CNN are showing some conflicting and confusing things. Thaksin, who is in the UN right now, is saying that the government has Khrungthep (Bangkok) and surrounding areas under control. But whose government? The Thaksin government, or the opposition government lead by General Sonti, the head of the military?
The gentleman appeared again, repeating this message. This time with a little more emphasis on the “no resistance” part of the message.
Useful article from BBC giving some background on the turbulent political situation here this year.
Updated 12:00 midnight (Now Wednesday Morning)
The gentleman appeared yet again this time providing the reasons for the coup. Here is a roughly translated text, provided by Tawn:
From Committee of Political Reformation Under Democracy: As it is clearly seen that the current government has caused the society to be fragmented, many people are skeptical of how the government is being run.
Corruption has occurred.This is the worst in our history.This has caused many parties to come close to challenging the King’s power.There have been attempts to solve this problem but they have been unsuccessful.
This situation has made it necessary for the Committee – consisting of the heads of the military branches and the National Police, to take over the power from this point.
Rest assured that the Committee does not intend to run the country; our intention is to restore the power to the hands of the Thai people as soon as possible.
Thus, to keep peace of the nation, and restore the rightful position of the monarchy.
I have edited the televised version of this speech and uploaded it to You Tube with subtitles. Low quality – be warned.
A subsequent message has been delievered that the Committee is now in control of the government and the curfew imposed by Thaksin has been lifted. All soldiers are advised and military are advised to remain in place and not to move, including arms and equipment, until ordered to do so by General Sonti. Soldiers are also to report to their commanding officer if they have not already done so.
Another message has been delivered on the TV consisting of four main points:
- The current constitution has been invalidated
- The senators and members of parliament have been relieved of their positions
- The King’s advisors remain in power
- The judiciary remains in power
General Sonti Bunyaraganan is the signatory to this statement.
This is interesting because it makes it very clear who is responsible. Tawn says that from his memories of the last coup when he was back in middle school, the next step will be “to clear the chessboard.” In other words, to wipe away all vestiges of Thaksin’s power.
Updated 12:53 From the Bangkok Post website:
Mr Thaksin was in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, and had earlier tried to dismiss Gen Sonthi and order troops back to their barracks. His order, via a voice broadcast on TV and radio, was cut off halfway as the dramatic coup unfolded.
Tanks and troops of the Fourth Cavalry Battalion moved into strategic points in Bangkok, including the Royal Plaza.
A so-called “Democratic Reform Council” declared itself in control, a throwback to former coups when military commanders promised more democratic reform.
Like most of the previous 19 military coups since 1932, there was no violence. Tanks surrounded Government House and apparently some newspaper offices. All broadcasting on local TV was interrupted, and replaced by a notice which stated the military takeover and apologised “for any inconvenience.”
At least in the early hours of the coup, most other communications continued uninterrupted. Cable-TV broadcasts continued — including foreign news reports of the coup — and the airports remained open.
Thailand websites including the Bangkok Post were operating under very heavy loads as people tried to find out what was happening. As always, local broadcast media contained no breaking updates.
Mr Thaksin said he would return to Thailand from New York. The shadowy coup administrators said he would not be allowed to resume his post as prime minister.
Sources told the Bangkok Post that Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulananonda had tried and failed to mediate between the coup forces and another army faction loyal to Mr Thaksin. Gen Prem was summoned to the Royal Palace.
The whereabouts of most of the members the government were unknown. Mr Thaksin, Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkol were in New York. Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Wannasathit, the caretaker premier, was reportedly detained by the military.
While I’m sure many additional detail will emerge in the next few hours and days, I think I’ve seen enough excitement. I’m heading to bed, leaving you with these final thoughts:
- There have been 19 coups since Thailand became a democracy in 1932, almost all of which have been bloodless.
- Prime Minister Thaksin won two elections – most recently in 2005 – with landslide victories. He still commands a respectable majority in opinion polls.
- Accusations of vote-buying and other election tampering arose after this April’s snap election, called three years ahead of schedule when the Prime Minister came under significant attack from opponents. The courts threw out the results of the election.