Rumours of a coup are greatly exaggerated

Rumours of a coup are greatly exaggerated

ANALYSIS: For the army, street protests and House mayhem are insufficient grounds for a putsch

Rumours of a new military coup are making the rounds as yellow shirts take to the streets again, this time to rally against the reconciliation bills they view as an attempt to secure the return of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In 2006, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) was seen as attempting to stir up unrest with the hidden agenda of pressuring the army to stage the Sept 19 coup that ousted Thaksin.

This time, the PAD street protest has irritated army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, prompting him to rule out the possibility of another coup. This, however, has not been enough to calm the rumours.

A scuffle in the House of Representatives sparked by the Democrats' aggressive attempts to block the reconciliation bills has also fuelled tensions.

And as if that was not enough, red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan called on fellow United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) supporters nationwide to come out to fight against the rumoured coup. He described the showdown as "the last war".

Another red shirt leader, Korkaew Pikulthong, claimed the Democrat Party and PAD had been in contact with senior officers to carry out a plot to topple the government.

If the parliament debates a proposed constitution amendment bill, defying a Constitution Court order to suspend proceedings on the issue, the Democrats will ask the court to remove those MPs and senators who voted to pass the bill and seek the dissolution of the Pheu Thai Party, Mr Korkaew said.

He said an influential person was lobbying parties in the coalition government to support the plot to topple the government, promising them "grade A" ministries in a new cabinet.

Another rumour has surfaced, thought to have been spread by pro-red shirt military officials, about a plot to abduct Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and detain her at the 11th Infantry Regiment in the capital's Bang Khen district.

These wild rumours came as Gen Prayuth held a meeting with the heads of the army units, all military generals, on the morning of June 1, and then chaired another meeting with military colonels in the same afternoon.

The PM and her deputy, Yutthasak Sasiprapa, are said to have called Gen Prayuth directly and were told the two meetings were pre-scheduled and usually held every three months.

The same day, an order to transfer 67 colonels was circulated among the army, reminding many of the transfer of 179 colonels prior to the 2006 coup.

These rumours have shaken the government's confidence, and Ms Yingluck's assertions that she was capable of reconciling with Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Prayuth do not seem so convincing any more.

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat decided to cut short his trip to attend the Shangri La Dialogue, an annual international security forum in Singapore, and returned to Thailand on June 1, two days ahead of schedule.

Red shirt TV channels speculated that Supreme Commander Gen Thanasak Patimapakorn, not Gen Prayuth, would lead a new coup.

Gen Thanasak later strongly denied this.

Unlike Gen Thanasak, what bothered Gen Prayuth most was not rumours he would lead a coup, but the pressure piled on him by the calls from some demonstrators for the military to resolve political conflicts by staging a coup.

Gen Prayuth thinks the military should remain neutral when it comes to politics.

In the past, classic factors that have driven the military to stage coups were political interference, such as politically motivated reshuffles or an attempt to remove the army chief from his post.

Given the absence of such factors, there appears nothing to compel the military leader to resort to such drastic action, at least for the time being.

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