Coup Enjoys Popular Support Kingdom-wide

While they didn’t provide the details of how the poll was conducted, the Bangkok Post is reporting the results to nationwide polling asking people’s opinion of the coup.  The results are a bit surprising.  Here’s an excerpt:

A survey by the Bangkok Post found most people interviewed in Bangkok and selected provinces across the country supported the coup.

A survey conducted by Suan Dusit Poll yesterday among 2,019 people from various occupations nationwide found that 83.9% were for the takeover by the Council for Democratic Reform.

Surprisingly, more people in the provinces supported the coup _ 86.3 % of the respondents, compared to their counterparts in Bangkok at 81.6 %.

Meanwhile, 75% believed the coup would improve the political situation, 20.2 thought the situation would remain the same, while 4.7% said the coup would make matters worse.

Many members of the public at large sighed with relief that a long period of uncertainty and the divisiveness that it engendered was coming to an end.

The third paragraph is really the clencher: deposed Prime Minister Thaksin had enjoyed support in the 70-80% range from the 90% of the population that lives ourtside Khrungthep.  That people in the provinces are support the coup so highly suggests that the reforms of the Council have a good opportunity to be successful.


Thank you to all the people who have sent emails expressing their concern for the well being of Tawn and myself.  Rest assured that all is well here and Bangkok and that the reporting you’re hearing and the pictures you’re seeing represent a very narrow view of the overall situation.

It reminds me of the case after the invasion of Iraq where we saw the images of mobs of people toppling the statue of Sadam Hussein in Baghdad.  Later on we learned (source: Control Room) the the pictures of the crowds bringing down the statue were deceptive: upon viewing a wider angle view of that square, there was only a small group of people, not the masses that it appeared in close-up.  Plus, those people turned out not to be Baghdad locals but people who had been brought in from outside for the event.  Interesting.

 

On the Street

The day after the coup, things were pretty calm in Khrungthep.  Traffic was light as most businesses were closed, as were banks and government agencies.  Shopping malls and cinemas were open as usual although the malls closed at 8:00, an hour or two earlier than usual.

We saw very few soldiers in the Sukhumvit/Asoke area.  In fact the only ones were a group of eight or so who were relaxing in the shade around a pool at the Asoke Condominum complex, across from the Sukhumvit Metro station.  We noticed this while eating lunch at Bitter Brown, the owner explaining that the soldiers were guarding the Metro station and were using the pool area for breaks.  The dark-skinned skinny country boys in camoflauge were sleeping on the deck chairs, pulled into the shade on this already-cool afternoon.

Police officers were conspicuously absent – there are normally one or two at every intersection but I didn’t notice any, even as we drove past the National Police headquarters on the way to Siam Square.

This is the slow reason for tourism, September being the rainiest month of the year, so there was already a low number of people out and about.  The coup provided additional incentive for people to stay indoors, although there was no sign of any danger in being out.

Martial law is in place and gatherings of more than five people is not allowed, meaning that you have to choose your dinner guests more carefully.  We met Tod for dinner at T42, so were only three and were okay.

Me and You Before dinner, we watched “You and Me and Everyone We Know,” Miranda July’s unique take on relationships and connection in a very disconnected world.  (Roger Ebert’s review here)

The story centers on two characters: a divorced shoe salesman with a teenage and pre-teen son, and an eccentric performance artist who struggle to connect with each other after obvious attraction when they first meet.  A host of other interesting characters populate the movie, each playing out the different and desparate ways we seek out connection in this age of chat-room dating.

The film won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, and at Cannes won the Camera d’Or as best first film, and the Critics’ Week grand prize.  It is really a beautiful and lyrical film, and captures characters so realistically and so unlike many – especially American-made – films.

 

Pictures From the Scene

Bill Kannberg, a photographer friend visiting from Florida, headed out last night and took a taxi into the old city to see what was happening.  Here are some pictures that he took.  All pictures in this post are copyright 2006, Bill Kannberg, used with his kind permission.  His website is: www.billkannberg.com

Bill has said he always travels with a camera; now we know why.

Tank1 (Medium)  

tank2 (Medium)

tank3 (Medium)  

tank4 (Medium)

 

Broadcasting Returns

At 9:20 am local time the heads of the military branches and the national police appeared on TV.  General Sondhi read a statement mirroring what was announced last night:

We took over because of the increasingly divided and fragmented society, caused by Thaksin’s corruption.  We are loyal to His Majesty and will return power to the people as soon as possible.  Thank you for your cooperation and our apologies for any inconvenience.

IMG_4342  IMG_4341

The heads of the armed forces and national police, leftRight: General Sondhi speaks.

Immediately afterwards, broadcasting on Thai TV channels returns, all news stories showing some very compelling footage of the tanks around the palace, soldiers, etc.

One of the morning programs “Puuying tung Puuying” (Woman to Woman – “The View” of Thailand without Star Jones-Reynolds) returned with the normally very relaxed women all sitting upright at a news desk, rather uncomfortably, with vaguely shocked expressions on their faces.

Previous Coups

From the Globe and Mail website, information about nine of the most recent coups (now totalling 19) since the Kingdom became a democracy in 1932.

Previous recent coups in Thailand

— 1971: Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn returns to power and abolishes the constitution and dissolves the parliament.

— October 1973: A student-led uprising ousts the “Three Tyrants” — Mr. Thanom, his son Col. Narong Kittikachorn and his father-in-law Field Marshal Praphas Charusathien — who ruled Thailand for much of the 1960s and early 1970s. A brief period of democracy ensues.

— Oct. 6, 1976: At least 46 student protesters, who were demonstrating against the return of Mr. Thanom to Thailand, are killed and hundreds more are wounded by the police and army. A coup installs a new military-guided, right-wing government.

— March 26, 1977: The military government thwarts a coup led by Gen. Chalard Hiranyasiri after Gen. Chalard and about 300 men seized four government and military buildings.

— Oct. 20, 1977: A bloodless military coup, led by Adm. Sangad Chaloryoo, installs Kriangsak Chomanan as prime minister.

— April 1, 1981: Factions in the military attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda’s government.

— Sept. 9, 1985: Retired military officers stage a failed coup attempt.

— Feb. 23, 1991: Gen. Sunchinda Kraprayoon topples the civilian government of Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan in a bloodless takeover.

— May 1992: Gen. Suchinda’s is forced from power when troops gun down at least 50 pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok. In the aftermath of the violence, his appointed prime minister resigns. King Bhumibol Adulyadej intervenes to end demonstrations, and parliament votes to reduce the power of the military in Thai politics.

The Morning After the Coup

At about 6:00 this morning, my phone rang.  It was Ajarn Yai (principal) from Bangkhonthii school, agreeing with my sentiment that I shouldn’t drive down there today.  “Well, see you next week,” she said in a characteristically Thai manner.  Coup?  Oh, mai pen rai!

Since last night, all of the foreign channels on cable have been blocked – even “Spongebob Squarepants!”  Who knew he was subversive?

From the internet, especially www.2bangkok.com which is a great consolidator site, it appears that what we had yesterday was actually two coups:

Conflicts between to military groups, one pro- and the other anti-Thaksin, had been mediated yesterday by the head of the King’s Privy Council – a body that serves as the mouth of His Majesty in politics.  The negotiations broke down during the afternoon.

Prime Minister Thaksin staged an initial coup, going on air live from New York announcing a state of emergency and firing the military supreme commander, General Sondhi (I’m modifying the spelling from what I used last night to more accuracly reflect the pronounciation).  The military was already at the TV stations (some local stations are owned by the military) and pulled the plug mid-way through the announcement.  Except for Channel 9, which played the entire statement.

BKK Coup 3 It was at that point that troops led by General Sondhi (pictured left) staged the counter-coup.  The Fourth Army Brigade took up positions around key government buildings, including all ministerial offices, the Dusit Palace and Government House.  One motivation that has been cited is that there was a major protest scheduled for today by anti-Thaksin forces called the People’s Alliance for Democracy.  The armed forest police based at Khao Yai National Park (90 mins away) had been called into the city to quell the protest.  The military decided to stage the counter-coup at this point to prevent what could have become a violent clash between the forest poice and the protesters.

A few weeks ago, General Sondhi had asked the National Park Department to return 1,000 rifles that the army had loaned the forest police several years ago, claiming that the army had a shortage of weapons.  This lead additional creedence to rumours of a possible coup.

 


Funny and slightly overdramatic SMS from Tawn’s friend Pim, received early last night, about 10:00:

There’s a coup going on.  Stay home and lock the door for safety!

(As if we lived in a small shop house near the Grand Palace!)


As for today, a national holiday has been declared: schools, the stock market, and government offices are closed.  Traffic on Asoke is still pretty heavy, so not everybody has received the message.

 

Coup d’État Finally Arrives

BBC 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.


BKK Coup 1 Updated 11:11

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.”


Updated 11:21

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.


Updated 11:29

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?


 Updated 11:40

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.

 


Updated 12:27

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.


Updated 12:37

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

BKK Coup 2 The army commander Gen Sonthi Boonyarataglin staged a coup d’etat Tuesday evening (Thailand time) and ousted the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

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.


Updated 1:10  

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.