Military waits as political ways out near dead end

Military waits as political ways out near dead end

The ongoing political strife is giving rise to yet more coup d’etat rumours.

The prospect of a coup is looking more appealing since other political solutions proposed by various groups are looking futile.

It’s obvious Thais are sick of the current situation and are disillusioned with all political actors, be it the government, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) or the red shirts under the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva offered a reform package which was shot down by the government and Pheu Thai because it was too similar to the PDRC’s stance.

The election called for July 20 looks doomed if the Democrats boycott it and the PDRC attempts to sabotage it just as they did with the Feb 2 poll before it. It was later declared null and void by the Constitutional Court.

Attempts to include Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda in the conflict by retired generals who joined together under the Rattha Bukkhon group met with resistance.

Even Mr Abhisit himself said a coup might have to happen in the event of a political vacuum.

Thais are accustomed to coups after all. Eighteen of them have been held since the country switched to a constitutional monarchy.

But this crisis is different. Even though the situation is “ripe” with rising public expectations of a coup, the military is hesitating. The generals have learned their lessons from the 2006 putsch.

That coup, which deposed Thaksin Shinawatra, was initially welcomed by the public, but turned out to be a bad solution.

Moreover, the military realises that the global community, in particular the US, is watching with disapproval.

Instead, the military has tried to mediate and arranged talks between the protagonists.

But their attempts have produced no satisfactory results. Worse, sporadic violence occurred, resulting in at least 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries, while rumours of a coup have kept simmering.

It all seems to suggest that a coup is inevitable. But the military have so far refused, probably to avoid bloodshed if the red shirts resist.

The pro-government faction views the army with suspicion, thinking the men in uniform will only serve the elite, while the PDRC is the only group that may welcome the army’s interference, as that would pave the way for a neutral prime minister.

Now that all other solutions have fallen apart, the military appears to be considering a coup, as a last resort option.

“I assure you, the army chief and other senior officers have no intention of staging a coup. It depends on how the political situation unfolds, and we are monitoring it on a day-to-day basis.

"Events will let us know if a coup is necessary, so we stand ready for any situation,’’ one army commander said on condition of anonymity.

Most army men believe that if army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha wanted power, he would have staged a coup a long time ago.

But the army chief, like other top commanders, has just a few months left before he retires and would rather bow out peacefully, rather than be dragged into a messy conflict.

But the general may be forced to make a decision. After all, he has never ruled out a “special option”.

"The military does not shut or open the door to a coup, but a decision depends on the situation,’’ Gen Prayuth once said.

The Constitutional Court ruling that removed Ms Yingluck from office on Wednesday may lead to a political confrontation since the red shirts are set to rally in Bangkok this weekend. Meanwhile, the PDRC’s Suthep Thaugsuban has announced another PDRC “final battle” for May 14.

All eyes now turn to Gen Prayuth.

Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

Wassana Nanuam

Senior news reporter

Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

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