Rumours of possible coup and violence have been spreading online over the past week ahead of the anti-government protesters' gathering which started Sunday.
The hearsay caused widespread panic among members of the public who were urged to hoard food and cash for a potential emergency situation.
As rumours of a military coup swirled through the crowd and social media, the only soldier in sight was providing his support to the anti-government rally at Lumpini Park. (Photo by Phrakrit Juntawong)
The government's move on Wednesday to invoke the Internal Security Act (ISA) in the three districts of the capital to tackle anti-amnesty bill rallies, even though it earlier tried to play down the protest fears, triggered further concerns among the public.
The law, even approved by a small group of cabinet members, not the full cabinet, raised public eyebrows about what will really happen.
There have also been messages spreading among protesters that "soldiers" will come out to help topple the government.
The rumours of "soldiers' presence" were circulating during the anti-government rally of the Pitak Siam group led by Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, or Seh Ai, in November last year but they never came to pass.
News of a possible coup has re-emerged at a time when the government is under pressure from several issues, including the economic slowdown, the rice pledging scheme debacle, and the leak of a controversial clip featuring an alleged conversation between Deputy Defence Minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa and ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, partially regarding an attempt to control the armed forces.
Many people are convinced that someone spreading the rumours is trying to link the departure of Their Majesties the King and Queen from Bangkok for a stay at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, on Thursday, with the acute political tension.
Such claims have no grounds as Their Majesties the King and Queen's schedule to leave Siriraj Hospital was actually made two weeks before Thursday, but was postponed. In addition, retired Adm Chai Suwannaphap, who leads the group calling itself "the people's force", among the main groups calling for protests this time, was a classmate of Gen Boonlert and Privy Councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont in the 1st class of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.
The Thaksin camp believes Gen Surayud was involved in the Sept 19, 2006 coup, since he was appointed by the coup-makers as prime minister after toppling the Thaksin administration.
Col Wintai Suwaree, deputy army spokesman, said Sunday army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was concerned about the rumours spreading, and wanted to assure the public that weapon and troops relocations under way are in line with the army's normal practice at this time. Troops will relocate on Aug 6 and 19 in Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Lop Buri and Saraburi.
While the above reasons have convinced many people to believe the rumours, there are many reasons to counter them.
Over the past two years, the relationship between the military top brass and the government under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been good.
The government has pleased the armed forces in several ways, particularly with arms purchases. Also, last week it approved the navy's plan to procure a new frigate worth 14.6 billion baht from South Korea.
But some observers believe the coup, if it happens, would be made by the group of "young turks", not the top brass.
However, such arguments fail to convince key "young turk" commanders.
"I can confirm there will be no coup. It is not the time. Soldiers will be in their barracks," a key middle-level commander told the Bangkok Post, adding a coup is impossible without the support of the top brass.
Another factor hindering a possible coup, particularly as a reason to counter the amnesty bill, is that the bill would also benefit the military.
About the author
- Writer: Wassana Nanuam